Survivors of the abuse at the Antonio Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in Lujan de Cuyo, a municipality in northwestern Argentina, are waiting for Francis’ reaction to this week’s verdict. They say the priests should be made to "resign directly by the Holy Father," the maximum punishment imposed by the Roman Catholic Church.
“This is a watershed case for society, justice, the victims and also for the church,” said Bishop Sergio Buenanueva, head of the Pastoral Council for the Protection of Vulnerable Minors and Adults in the Argentine Episcopal Conference.
The sentences handed down Monday by the three-judge panel in the city of Mendoza — the longest ever imposed on clergy in Argentina — sent “a strong message to the church,” Buenanueva said. The Rev. Nicola Corradi, an 83-year-old Italian, was given 42 years and the Rev. Horacio Corbacho, a 59-year-old Argentine, got 45 years. They were arrested in 2016. The panel also sentenced Armando Gómez, a gardener at the institute, to 18 years in prison.
It’s expected that Corradi will remain under house arrest because of his age, while Corbacho and Gómez will be held at a prison in Mendoza. The verdicts can be appealed. The judges found the men guilty of 20 counts of abuse, including rape, that occurred between 2005 and 2016 at the school, which has since shut down. The 10 victims were former students and all minors at the time of the abuse.
Buenanueva said he expects the church to defrock the priests. “We are heading in that direction, that they lose their clerical status,” he said, adding that the pontiff “is making big steps” in dealing with the problem in the heart of the church.
But a former student at the school for the deaf, who asked not to be identified, said the pope “never expressed interest” before in the victims and wondered “what is he going to say now?” The Provolo victims have often said they did not feel the local church or the Vatican protected them.
Francis has not commented publicly on the case, although in 2017 the Vatican sent two Argentine priests to investigate what happened in Mendoza. One of the two priests, judicial vicar Dante Simon, told The Associated Press on Monday, “Thank God there has been justice and peace for the victims.”
The case has shocked Argentines — as did the revelation that Corradi had been previously accused of similar offenses at a sister agency, the Antonio Provolo Institute in Verona, Italy, but was never charged.
The Vatican had known about Corradi since at least 2009, when the Italian Provolo students went public with tales of abuse and named names. The Vatican ordered an investigation and sanctioned four accused priests, but Corradi apparently never was punished in Italy.
The defendants had pleaded innocence and declined to make statements. The Archbishopric of Mendoza expressed “solidarity and closeness with the victims and their families, who have reported suffering the most aberrant mistreatment.”
Simon, the investigator sent by the Vatican, had previously told AP the pontiff expressed his sadness about the case and said that "he was very worried about this situation." In a report submitted earlier to the Vatican, Simon requested that Corradi and Corbacho be made to "resign directly by the Holy Father." His report must be reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Former male and female students testified that the priests touched and raped them in their dormitories and school bathrooms. They also said they were forced to look at pornographic images. They said they were warned to keep quiet.
Investigators found records of complaints made by parents that weren’t followed up, photographs of a naked girl on Corbacho's computer and chains he allegedly used to subdue one girl. Many in Argentina have asked why Francis did not remove Corradi as the authority at the Mendoza school once he learned of the allegations in Verona.
Corradi’s name appeared publicly in 2009, when 67 people said they were abused at the Verona institute by 24 priests, lay people and religious brothers, and specifically said Corradi was in Argentina.
In 2012, the diocese of Verona asked for forgiveness from the victims and sanctioned 24 of the accused, although Corradi was not among them. None of the cases ever went to trial. Corradi’s name appeared again in 2014 in a letter written to the pope by deaf students in Verona that reiterated the potential danger he posed in Mendoza.
Corradi is also being investigated in the province of Buenos Aires, where alleged abuses occurred in the Provolo Institute of the city of La Plata. The priest ended up there after Verona, but before he went to Mendoza.