When Sexual Abuse Can Count on Protection
Two years ago, the mother of the victim, a 15-year-old boy, made the complaint to the Bishop of Quilmes, telling him that a Berazategui priest tried to rape her son. The bishop limited his response to admonishing the priest and asking him to leave the diocese. But he never reported the abuse to the criminal justice system. The priest, who already had a history of “inappropriate conduct,” is to this day celebrating Mass, according to witness accounts.
By Mariana Carbajal
April 19, 2004
[Translated to English by BishopAccountability.org. Click below to see original article in Spanish.]
[Photo Caption: Monsignor Luis Stökler, Bishop of Quilmes. There were other instances of abuse in the diocese.]
For the first time, the justice system gained access to documents that are proof of the extensive protection that the Catholic Church of Argentina gives to priests who are accused of sexually abusing children. The Bishop of Quilmes was not only informed of a case of sex abuse of a 15-year-old boy by a priest in his diocese, but the priest himself admitted to the abuse. Be that as it was, Monsignor Luis Stöckler still decided to not denounce him to the secular legal system. Instead, he “reprimanded” him and initiated an ecclesiastical case, at the same time that he urged him to “leave the parish jurisdiction” and refrain from giving Mass for a month or making “public or private” statements on the matter.
Moreover, Stöckler never described the sexual abuse as a crime per se. He simply considered it an “infraction.” Nor did he recommend treatment for the priest, who, according to witnesses, continued celebrating Mass.
The victim’s mother, an upstanding citizen and religiously devout women, rebuked the bishop for taking the matter lightly. In her words, Stöckler told her to “show mercy to those who have taken a vocational vow of celibacy, as they have moments of weakness.”
As compensation, the Diocese of Quilmes offered to pay for her son’s psychological therapy to overcome the trauma from the abuse. Ultimately, the victim’s mother filed a criminal complaint. The case has since revealed that the protection given to the priest was more extensive: despite requirements outlined by the Quilmes Office of Legal Proceedings for Crimes against Sexual Integrity [known as UFI No. 8], the Diocese of Quilmes refused to reveal the whereabouts of the accused priest.
From testimonies in the diocese collected by the victim’s mother, which she added to the case files, it can be deduced that the Church had in its possession prior records of the priest’s “inappropriate conduct.”
Even after he was reprimanded, the accused priest went on to officiate Mass at San Cayetano Parish, in Berazategui, and act as chaplain at Iriarte Hospital, in Quilmes, the very same diocese that employed another pedophile priest, Héctor Pared, who has been sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The priest in question is Rubén Pardo, approximately 50 years old. His identity was revealed last night in a report on the television program La Cornisa (América). The priest had a close relationship with the family of the victim, who will be identified as “Marcos” to protect his identity. In fact, the relationship was so close-knit that the priest became a paternal figure for the boy and his younger brother, who were fatherless. Marcos came to address the priest as “papi,” according to testimonies. For this reason, Marcos’s mother “elected” Father Pardo to talk with her 15-year-old son about sexuality, since she had struggled to discuss the subject of sex with her son.
“Marcos’s family is devoted to the Church: the uncle is a deacon in the Diocese of Quilmes; his mother has led catechism classes for children, adolescents and adults, does volunteer work for the church, and teaches at a school in the Diocese of Quilmes,” Mónica Frade, legal representative for the mother, told Página/12.
To facilitate conversation between the priest and her son, the mother invited the priest to dinner. She even offered to have him stay the night. But the priest declined because he had to officiate Mass early the next morning. However, he offered to have Marcos spend the night at his home, a residence in the diocese whose property bordered the backyard of the boy’s house, in Quilmes.
According to the testimony provided by Marcos to UFI No. 8, which is presided over by prosecutor Pablo Pérez Marcote, when they were at the priest’s home Father Pardo asked him if he was cold and invited him to his bed. The boy interpreted the invitation as a “fatherly gesture.” He also believed that the first kiss, which the priest gave him on the cheek, had this “fraternal spirit.” But he was wrong.
“At some point he hugged me and wrapped his arms and legs around my body. He asked me if I knew how to kiss a girl, I said I did, then he started kissing me, moving his tongue inside my mouth. I was very uncomfortable. He proceeded to rub my legs and brought his hands up, touching my genitals and my butt. I was confused and shocked at what was happening.
“Then he showed me his penis. By then I was shaking. Rubén began to masturbate, he told me to pull out my penis, and when I didn’t, he did it for me and told me to masturbate.
“My mind went blank. I didn’t hear what he was saying to me. At some point I acted as if I was masturbating although I really wasn’t. Rubén lubricated his penis with his saliva and told me to stimulate his penis with my hands. Then he wanted me to suck his penis but I refused. I felt like my strength was returning. I showed increased resistance. I had a deeply unsettling feeling inside me. Rubén finished masturbating by ejaculating, got out of bed, and went to the bathroom…”
Marcos was still shaking. “I knew he was abusing me, but I didn’t know how to avoid it because I was very scared and shocked,” he said. When the priest returned to the bed, and saw that Marcos had moved to the other bed, he invited him once again to his bed, this time to give him a massage, but Marcos refused. As is habitual among child abusers, the priest asked Marcos to keep things a secret. The incident occurred in the early morning of August 15, 2002.
Flexibility and Misery
Two days later, Marcos’s mother met with Bishop Stöckler to inform him of the incident and hand him a handwritten letter from Marcos (to which Página/12 had access), in which the boy describes the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Pardo. “The mother expected the Church to report the crime to the justice system, impose a serious punishment on the priest, remove him from ministry, and take immediate action to expel him from the Church,” said Mónica Frade, the family's lawyer.
The mother testified that she had a second meeting with Bishop Stöckler, during which he told her that “on August 19, 2002 he met with Father Rubén Pardo,” who “confessed to him in tears to his attempted sexual assault [on her son], and asked for forgiveness in a sincere profession of repentance.”
The mother asked Stöckler to explain the actions he’d take in response to Pardo’s confession. “He told me he was going to follow what was mandated by Canon Law, and that I should be patient, and above all, that I should be more merciful towards those who’ve taken a vocational vow of celibacy, as they experience moments of weakness,” she declared to UFI No. 8.
The bishop went on to tell her that she “had to be more flexible because these situations (concerning child sexual abuse) also happened with people in other professions.”
The mother declared that in her conversation with the bishop “he attempted to reverse their roles as a way to justify the pedophile behavior (...) when [it should have been time to] condemn a criminal, not justify his actions, much less conceal them.”
As compensation, the Diocese of Quilmes offered the mother payment for the expenses incurred in psychological therapy for Marcos and herself. Because the Catholic Church held an important place in her life and her family’s life, the shock produced by the situation strongly impacted the mother, who came to need psychiatric attention and was medicated.
But the payments for treatment provided by the Diocese of Quilmes lasted only four months, until the organization in the Federal Capital of Buenos Aires dedicated to the comprehensive counseling of victims of sexual abuse arranged to pay for a legal consultation for the mother. According to her testimony, the mother was contacted by Carlos Abad, vicar general of the diocese, who informed her that the Church would cease to provide her with financial compensation.
In her testimony, the mother said she had another meeting with the bishop, this time after December 20, 2002, at which time Stöckler told her he considered that “sufficient time had passed to resolve this little problem, as though he were downplaying what had happened. From that point forward, the bishop did not communicate with my family or the professionals who were assisting us,” she testified.
Although they no longer received financial assistance from the diocese, Marcos and his mother continued to undergo treatment for approximately another year. “The mother was very affected, in a very bad state of mind, suffered insomnia, emotional breakdowns, all fundamentally because she felt betrayed by the priest and the Church. She believed in the institution. This is why she’d exhausted all avenues to see, [albeit unsuccessfully], that the Church uphold justice for her son,” said the family’s lawyer in conversation with Página/12.
“She expected that the bishop would seek justice and instead came face to face with a cover-up. In addition, she felt guilty for having ‘delivered’ her son to a pedophile priest who figured prominently in their life. Later, she discovered that Pardo was a carrier of the HIV virus, and she feared that Marcos had been infected,” she continued.
Seeing that the diocese did not intend to involve the justice system, which she expected them to do, the mother filed the criminal complaint, nearly six months after the fact, on February 4, 2003 to UFI No. 8, which specializes in sex crimes. The judge presiding over the case, for “sexual abuse” against a minor, is Adriana Myzzkyn, Correctional and Criminal Judge of Quilmes.
The accused priest still hasn’t been called to testify. On February 27, 2003, the prosecutor, Pérez Marcote, contacted the Diocese of Quilmes and made an urgent request for information on the whereabouts of Father Pardo, who after receiving the sanction had left the diocese, where he had been priest at San Cayetano Parish, in Berazategui, and had acted as chaplain in the Intensive Care Unit of Doctor Iriarte Hospital.
In response to Marcote’s request for information on Pardo’s whereabouts, the Diocese of Quilmes was evasive, stating that “to date, his pastoral destination hasn’t been determined and he’s residing outside the territorial jurisdiction of this diocese.” At no time did they specify Pardo’s location, despite the fact that in his canonical punishment Stöckler required that Pardo provide the Diocese of Quilmes with “a telephone number and address where he could be easily reached.” As of September, 2003, Pardo was reportedly living at a priest’s residence at Vicarage Zona Flores: Condarco 581, in the capital city of Buenos Aires.
According to what Página/12 could establish, Pardo also resided at Casa de Ejercicios de los Padres Cooperadores de Cristo Rey, in the city of Rosario, and is presently living at a residence owned and operated by the archdiocese of Buenos Aires, whose name and address the Diocese of Quilmes refused to disclose when Página/12 reporters contacted Joaquín Carlos Guardiola, President of the Diocesan Commission for Canon Law, in Quilmes.
“Through acquaintances the mother found out that all this time, since Pardo had been denounced, he’d been officiating Mass in a Rosario parish, and also had participated in a religious ceremony at Basílica de Luján,” said Mónica Frade, the family's lawyer, who added that the mother also learned through her personal network at the diocese that Pardo had already exhibited a pattern of “inappropriate” conduct for a priest during his participation in other areas of the Church.
In his declaration to the prosecutor, Father Daniel Roberto Sanz said that two days after the abuse Marcos’s uncle, a deacon, approached him at Rosa Mística Chapel, in Quilmes, to discuss the matter. But in her own testimony, Marcos’s mother said that Sanz “omitted” an important detail in his declaration, namely, that he [Sanz] had confirmed to the deacon that “there were two other cases like the abuse that Marcos suffered in San Cayetano (the parish where Pardo ministered) and a third similar case in Carupé (another church in the diocese).”
Another priest who would’ve protected Pardo is Father Isidoro Psenda. Marcos’s mother went to see him and, according to her testimony, Psenda told her that “before Pardo was ordained to the priesthood, he [Psenda] and other priests spoke with Bishop Jorge Novak [Stöckler’s predecessor], in order to prevent Pardo’s ordination.”
In her detective work, Marco’s mother noted that prior to joining the Diocese of Quilmes, between 1989 and 1992, Pardo was a member of Asociación Ministros de los Enfermos, Religiosos Camilos, whose headquarters was in Avalos 278, in Buenos Aires.
UFI No. 8 contacted the association, which confirmed that information via a written document, and added that colleagues who knew Pardo at the time are of the belief that the accused priest “was not fit for religious life,” although they didn’t elaborate.
Pardo underwent his religious formation at Berazategui Seminary, whose then-director was Marcelo Daniel Colombo, who today is in charge of Catedral de Quilmes. On September 3, 2003, Colombo was called to testify in the current case and affirmed that in March of that year -- that is, seven months after the abuse was denounced -- he’d gone to see Pardo at the orders of the Office of the Bishop, and that Pardo “admitted to him that he’d had that encounter with the woman’s son…”, according to case documents that Página/12 had access to.
The prosecutor asked Colombo for Pardo’s exact words. Colombo responded that Pardo had said “we [the boy and I] touched each other.” Colombo explained that because of the “extreme discomfort” he felt during his conversation with Pardo, “he didn’t want to continue asking questions about what had happened.” In his testimony, Colombo revealed that when Pardo was in seminary school he exhibited “odd behavior” as well as an “irreverent and indolent nature,” adding that “there was always gossip among classmates about Pardo’s impertinence and verbal aggression and agressive manner.”
Curiously, Pardo’s face was familiar from television: he appeared on a Kaos broadcast in the capital city, when the animated reporter, Ronnie Arias, was covering an event for Breastfeeding Day, just a few days before the sexual abuse incident. In the broadcast, a priest arrives on the scene and Arias asks him: “Are you here to look for breasts?” “No, to bless them,” was Pardo’s response.