The House of the Fathers “In Crisis”
By Miguel Jorquera
September 5, 2005
Various individuals accused of sex abuse and pedophilia passed through the doors of Domus Mariae to be “rehabilitated” in the Church.
[Translated into English by BishopAccountability.org. Click below to see original article in Spanish.]
To the Justices it isn’t a crime that the Catholic Church protects pedophile priests, “rehabilitates” them, and assigns them to pastoral work in a community soup kitchen frequented by dozens of starving children. Domus Mariae (The House of María) is a Private Association of the Faithful for “priests in crisis” that has been operating since 1991 in Tortuguitas with the support and protection of the bishopric of Zárate-Campana, the backing of numerous dioceses in, and outside, the country, and the blessing of the Vatican. Through its doors have passed hundreds of religious members from all over Latin America, including Father Mario Napoleón Sasso, who has been held captive since December, 1993 [sic - this date seems to be a typo. Sasso's arrest was ordered in December 2003, and he was captured in January 2004. - BA.org], while awaiting oral argument for “sexual abuse” of five girls between 5 and 12 years of age who went in “search of food” to the Chapel of La Lonja, in the poorest section of Pilar. The Sasso case will also put on the bench of the accused the vicar of the bishopric for enabling Sasso to flee the country after his order of detention went into effect.
But the judicial resolution of the supposed cover-up that originated at Domus Mariae has established that the members of a religious order are not “obligated” to denounce the crime and are sheltered by the canonic secret of confession.
“What are you doing? What do you want?” asked the priest on the unannounced arrival of a reporter and photographer from Página 12.
“Is Father Anselmo in?”
“No,” answered nervously Father Anselmo Romero himself, who promptly got in his vehicle and sped away from the Mis Hijos Chalet in Tortuguitas, which houses the Domus Mariae.
The Mis Hijos Chalet has a large park, chapel, and three individual rooms for interned priests. Sasso arrived at the Domus Mariae on orders of the diocese of San Juan, where his past remains a confessional secret that the Archbishop of San Juan, Italo Di Stéfano, took with him to the grave.
Página 12 confirmed that the Domus Mariae continues with its “treatments” despite the scandalous Sasso case, which has only postponed the expansion of the “work” at Domus Mariae to a bucolic piece of land in Los Cardales with greater capacity to shelter priests and other religious members “in crisis.”
The bishop Rafael Rey tried to free himself from any association with Sasso, employing the argument that he was unaware of Sasso’s work and didn’t belong to his diocese, this in spite of the fact that he gave a mass with Sasso in Pilar and asked the faithful to “applaud father Napoleón” for his pastoral work at the chapel of La Lonja and his work as “marriage counselor.”
Rey went on to defend the Domus Mariae and asserted that he went to the Episcopal Conference to ensure that it was in charge of the Domus’s operation. For its parts the maximum authority of the Church of Argentina refrained from making a public statement.
Sasso’s subjugation of the children and the Domus’s “proteccion” of pedophile priests were denounced by members of the Catholic Church. Lía López, a devout laic who worked at the dining hall at La Lonja, received the first testimonies of the victims and immediately transmitted them to the vicar of the diocese of Zárate-Campana, José Ramón De la Villa. But despite numerous attempts to get through to Rey, De la Villa apparently never got a response.
The other whistleblower was the priest and psychiatrist, Luis Guzmán. As member of the House of Human Rights of Pilar, Guzmán gathered the same information as Lía from the victims, which was later confirmed by psychologists who specialized in abuse. Guzmán was first acquainted with the Domus when its then-director, priest and psychologist Pedro Marano, offered him a position there because of his “dual role” as priest and doctor. Guzmán rejected the offer with an argument that unsettled Marano: “Pedophilia is a crime and the priests protected here should instead be imprisoned.”
With the evidence in hand, Guzmán and López took their complaint to the Juvenile Justice of San Isidro. Guzmán and Sister Martha Pelloni (who, because of her work in Corrientes, is very familiar with the Romero case), laid out their case against the Domus in a meeting with the Apostolic Nuncio, Adriano Bernardini, but there was no follow-up communication from the Nuncio.
In footage from a hidden camera planted by the television program Punto Doc, before the Sasso scandal broke, Marano admitted that at the Domus “pedophile priests were treated” and bragged about “the more than 70 priests and other religious members from all of Latin America who stayed there,” with the “knowledge of all the bishops.”
Marano said the only reason that the Domus wouldn’t treat a pedophile priest was “if there was a criminal complaint.” Nevertheless, he admitted that even if a crime was committed, without a formal legal complaint, the priest would be admitted [to the center].
The case brought by the district attorney of Pilar, Enrique Ferrari, ended with the imprisonment and processing of Sasso, and with the oral argument, still pending, of the cover-up by the vicar De la Villa, who according to collected testimonies, gave cover to Sasso and helped him to flee the country.
But the case against the Domus, which Ferrari sent to San Martín (for jurisdictional reasons), ended in the archives. District attorney, Patricia Kaplis, told Página 12 that although the conduct at Domus Mariae is “ethically and morally reprehensible, it doesn’t constitute a crime.”