Argentine Priest Jailed for Sex Abuse
An Argentine priest who was once defended by Pope Francis against sex-abuse allegations has been ordered to prison to complete a 15-year sentence for sexually abusing an adolescent boy at a youth center over a decade ago.
By Shane Romig
Wall Street Journal
September 24, 2013
Buenos Aires—An Argentine priest who was once defended by Pope Francis against sex-abuse allegations has been ordered to prison to complete a 15-year sentence for sexually abusing an adolescent boy at a youth center over a decade ago.
Rev. Julio Grassi, a well-known priest who ran a shelter for troubled youth, was ordered to jail by a Buenos Aires provincial court late Monday, days after the priest lost his appeal to the province's high court. Father Grassi was convicted of aggravated sexual abuse in 2009, but had been allowed to stay in his house across the road from the center while he appealed the case.
Father Grassi said he would again appeal the case to the country's Supreme Court. I don't "have a trace of pedophilia," he told judges before they ordered him taken to the Ituzaingó prison.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi declined to comment.
The case is the most prominent abuse case in the pontiff's native land. Father Grassi was a high-profile figure in Buenos Aires during the 1990s and 2000's, running the Fundación Felices los Niños, or Happy Are The Children Foundation. He was frequently seen on television and rubbing elbow with celebrities, politicians and businessmen as he sought backing for the foundation.
That lifestyle ended in 2002 when local news program Telenoche Investiga aired a segment in which several youths said they had been abused by the priest.
Accusations from two of those boys were later dismissed, but four years ago he was convicted of sexual assault of a 13-year old boy, among the initial group that was under his care in 1996.
In 2002, the priest said the charges were trumped up by disgruntled former employees of the foundation and accused the minor of extortion, and has maintained his innocence since.
The Argentine Church at the time backed Father Grassi. In a 2006 interview with Argentine magazine Veintitres, the current pope, who was then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, said "justice will determine" if Father Grassi is guilty or innocent. "But there is a media campaign against him, a condemnation in the media." He said Father Grassi hadn't been suspended from his priestly duties because his case was "different" from other cases of alleged sexual abuse that had emerged at the time.
After Father Grassi's first conviction in 2009, the Argentine Bishops Conference, headed by Cardinal Bergoglio at the time, commissioned a legal study defending the priest. The introduction, written by an Argentine jurist, said Father Grassi was innocent and that many sexual abuse cases were part of a strategy to defame the church.
In a statement Tuesday, the diocese of Morón, the town where Mr. Grassi was a priest, said the legal study created "doubts about the guilt" of Father Grassi, and would wait for a final sentence to begin canonical proceedings that could end in his losing the priesthood.
Criticism of the Catholic Church's handling of Mr. Grassi's case has been harsh. "I'm ashamed that they say Father or Priest to a pedophile like Grassi. It's not fair for the honest priests that battle and fight against this scar inside the church," Hebe de Bonafini, president of Argentine rights group Madres de Plaza de Mayo said in an open letter published on the group's website.