Magdalena Has a Terrible Secret: The Case of the Priest Charged With Abuse of Minors
Residents of this tranquil town in the province of Buenos Aires speak softly about an episode they prefer to consign to oblivion.
By Marta García Terán
January 12, 1997
[Translated into English by BishopAccountability.org. Click below to see original article in Spanish.]
MAGDALENA – News of Father Ricardo Giménez’s release from jail has not altered the tranquility of the inhabitants of the town of Magdalena, 120 kilometers from Buenos Aires, who lived through turbulent times when the mother of a ten-year-old boy accused the parish priest of molesting her son.
During siesta, which the locals “take faithfully,” the main square in front of the Santa María Magdalena parish was practically deserted. The only sign of life was the playful shouts of kids who wouldn’t give respite to a bunch of old hammocks.
This panorama was a far cry from the commotion that ensued when Giménez was accused of child molestation: suspicions, gossip, insults exchanged between supporters and detractors of the priest, parents who withdrew their children from catechism classes, accusations of demonic possession and ungodliness, and media coverage all the while reflecting the cumulative agitation.
“What happened to the priest was a scandal, but I think that people still haven’t found out he’s no longer in jail. It’s true that news of his release came out in the papers and Father Angel D`Auro (presently the pastor of Santa María Magdalena Church) announced it during Monday’s Mass. But not everyone reads the paper and very few go to Mass on a weekday,” said Luis, a man in his 50s who declined to give his surname because “in a small town everyone knows everyone.”
On March 24 of last year, María Rosa Merlo filed a complaint against Giménez by which she affirmed that the priest had touched her son’s genitals and tried to kiss him on the mouth. Four additional criminal complaints were made.
On April 19, Giménez was arrested and Judge Emir Caputo Tártara gave him detention pending trial for child molestation. Lawyers for the priest, together with Carlos Galán, lawyer for the Archbishop of La Plata, submitted various requests to have Giménez released from jail, but they were rejected by the judge.
Last week, however, their request arrived in the hands of the interim judge of La Plata, César Melazo, who granted Giménez release from jail.
A Strange Man
Ricardo Giménez, 65 years old, served as pastor of Santa María Magdalena Church for almost two years. From the stories told by the locals, it can be deduced that he was short on charisma: apathetic, unloving, withdrawn, curt, and reserved were some of the adjectives used to describe him.
“A strange man,” said more than one local. Among his idiosyncrasies was that he didn’t allow family members and photographers to attend First Communion ceremonies. This caused tension with several parents of students at Colegio Sagrada Familia, located two blocks from the church, where he taught catechism.
Giménez lived at the residence provided by the church. A courtyard with video games and a pool were the main attractions for the altar boys who were invited by the priest to spend the afternoon there.
Giménez always maintained his innocence and described as “demonic and ungodly” the parents of the children who made allegations against him.
When Father Giménez was arrested, a heated discussion ensued between his supporters and detractors, while others watched from the sideline, not knowing what to think or why tempers boiled.
Whether out of certainty or suspicion, the community became embittered, and fear took hold of the better part of the congregation: “A whole lot of people stopped going to church and several parents pulled their children out of catechism class,” recalled Gregorio Valdéz, 55, a taxi driver.
In November of last year, the bishop of La Plata, on a visit to Magdalena, ordered that the pool be covered and the courtyard closed at the residence. And so it was. Gradually, and thanks to the new pastor, the people of Magdalena, by their own account, have recovered their trust and returned to church and catechism classes.
“Let’s hope that the fact that the father is now free doesn’t bring us back to the mess we were in that affected the church, which has nothing to do with the action of one man, because I for one like the serenity of Magdalena,” said a lady chewing gum in front of a window.
María Rosa Cannot Comprehend How the Priest is a Free Man
"Mom, the priest is getting out. Press charges again,” recounted María Rosa Merlo what her terrorized son, Ángel, told her when he found out that Father Ricardo Giménez had been released from jail.
Nervous and deeply distressed, the mother of the 10-year-old boy was fearful of the possibility that the priest returned to Magdalena.
“All I want is for my son to forget what happened, that there aren’t any disturbing recollections of the event. My Ángelito ask me all the time: And if he comes, what do I do? I don’t want to go through it all again. The justice system has completely failed me,” she said while drying the tears that fogged up her glasses.
Impunity and Accusations
Up until the time María Rosa issued the criminal complaint, Ángel was altar boy at the Santa María Magdalena parish, where he took catechism classes.
“Almost a month passed before his arrest. He passed by my house as though all was normal. He said we and the other parents who accused him were demons, that we were defaming him,” María Rosa recalled. At which point, she shut herself in her house for a long time. She was very scared. She was the target of verbal abuse from people who didn’t believe her son was telling the truth.
Once she regained her composure, she recounted what happened on March 24 of last year: “That Sunday, my Ángelito asked my permission to stay at the parish from lunchtime until Mass with two of his catechism classmates. When he arrived home that evening, he appeared very nervous to me. I asked him what had happened and he said to me: you know something, the priest was naked. I thought he meant that the priest was in shorts or underwear. I asked him again and he insisted the priest was naked.”
“I couldn’t believe it.”
That Sunday night, Ángel told his mother that he and his classmates were in the kitchen when Giménez came in without clothes, chatted with them a while and went to take a nap while they were in the pool.
When he awoke, he asked the boys to get out of the pool and take off their swimsuits. “My Angelito told me the priest, who was still naked, grabbed a towel, proceeded to dry the boy’s body, and touched the boy’s genitals.”
When Father Giménez and Ángel were in Giménez’s bedroom, where Angel had his clothes, he asked the priest for permission to go and play. The priest said he could, but only in exchange for a little kiss.
When Ángel offered his cheek, the priest grabbed him by the head and tried to kiss him on the mouth, albeit unsuccessfully.
María Rosa continued: “Then the priest pushed him onto the bed, grabbed him by the shoulders and legs, and tried again to kiss his mouth.”
After Ángel returned home and told what had happened, his mother filed the complaint. She was joined by the parents of four other boys.
"Other children told horrible things, like of the priest forcing them to bathe him after his foot operation, and making them wash his genitals,” said María Rosa before breathing deeply to hold back sobs of grief and indignation.
She emphasized that she has nothing against the Church, nor the parish of Santa María Magdalena: “All I want is for Father Giménez not to do to other children what he did to my Ángelito.”
Demonic and Ungodly
Father Ricardo Giménez never accepted the allegations against him, just as he never lost hope of regaining the trust of his parishioners.
From jail he sent a letter to his parish, published by the local seminary, in which he warned about the “demonic entanglement” of their confusion.
"With the deepest sadness in my soul, I come to you to join myself to the great sorrow you’re enduring because of me… Your sorrow, especially for being Catholic, and that, with this defamation, has you feeling oppressed, mocked and offended… The people of Magdalena were pressured by the media and by a small group of people who opposed my catechism and who had sworn to do whatever necessary to drive me from the parish,” wrote Giménez on April 22 of last year.