LA PLATA (ARGENTINA)
BishopAccountability.org [Waltham MA]
July 9, 2023
[Please note: Since published in early July 2023, this timeline has been updated and lightly revised. To see the updated version, click here.]
On July 1, 2023, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has chosen Archbishop Victor Fernández, the head of the Argentine archdiocese of La Plata since 2018, to lead the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF). As DDF prefect, Fernández will have authority over the office that processes allegations of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy worldwide.
The archbishop’s own handling of clergy sex abuse allegations is therefore highly relevant. The best known case during his five-year tenure in La Plata was against an influential priest named Eduardo Lorenzo.
We present the following timeline as a resource for those seeking a factual understanding of the archbishop’s handling of those allegations. See also our statement of 7/1/2023: Pope chooses archbishop with troubling record on abuse for top Vatican post.
June 2 – Fernández is appointed archbishop of La Plata.
June 21 – An article revisiting the 2008 allegations against La Plata archdiocesan priest Eduardo Lorenzo appears in the media outlet La Izquierda Diario. Lorenzo has been serving at Inmaculada Madre de Dios (Immaculate Mother of God) parish in Gonnet since 2007. In August 2008, the sponsor of a teenage boy living in a group home had filed a criminal complaint accusing Lorenzo of sexually abusing the boy, then ages 14 to 16, for nearly two years. According to the article, the Judiciary archived (but did not dismiss) the criminal case in January 2009, five months after opening it, citing a lack of evidence. In the canonical case that was conducted simultaneously, then-La Plata archbishop Héctor Aguer “acquitted” Lorenzo although later admits to having given him a “canonical rebuke.”
November 30 – Archbishop Fernández announces new parish assignments for 17 priests, including Lorenzo, who is scheduled to be transferred in February or March 2019 to Nuestra Señora del Carmen parish in Tolosa.
December 17 – Archbishop Fernández publishes a decree instructing priests and other archdiocesan personnel to abstain from being alone with minors or vulnerable adults in hotel rooms, homes, vehicles, or any other “non-visible places.” This decree will figure later in his handling of Lorenzo.
January 12 or so – Parents of children attending Nuestra Señora del Carmen parish school in Tolosa begin organizing to protest Lorenzo’s imminent transfer to their parish, citing the 2008 allegation against him.
January 15 – In response to the protests, Archbishop Fernández releases a statement summarizing the disposition of the 2008 case. Both the canonical and criminal investigations, he writes, reached the conclusion that the crime of sexual abuse had not taken place. (Note from BA: This isn’t accurate: the prosecutor archived the case citing insufficient evidence and a “lack of merit.” She did not determine that the crime hadn’t happened.) Furthermore, the archbishop writes, before deciding to transfer Lorenzo, he had ordered a “consultation” to determine if any new allegations had arisen in the last ten years. “No information or new elements emerged,” he writes.
Late January – Tolosa parents present the archdiocese with a petition with 2,000 signatures objecting to Lorenzo’s transfer to their parish.
February 1 – Tolosa mothers arrive for a scheduled meeting with Archbishop Fernández, only to find that Father Lorenzo and his lawyer are also present. The women are given two letters, according to a La Izquierda Diario account about the event: “In one, the accused priest presented to the archbishop his resignation from the transfer from Gonnet to Toulouse. In the other, Monsignor Fernández accepted it.”
The two letters are published in full that same day by the media outlet El Dia.
In his letter, Lorenzo asserts his innocence of the 2008 charge and decries the Tolosa protesters’ “slanders, insults and defamations.” But because he loves the church and for the greater good, he writes, he is asking to stay in Gonnet and not to be transferred to the Tolosa parish, “despite the fact that it hurts my soul.”
In his reply, the archbishop reviews the fact that the 2008 case was “filed” (archived) by the prosecutor, resulting in no criminal charge, and was dismissed by the church, with merely a reminder by the then-archbishop to be “prudent.” Fernández then muses about the motivations of the Tolosa parents. “One wonders what other goals some of the people who mobilized this pursue. … I received threatening emails without a signature, etc. This is how it went from what could have been an understandable concern, to a crude battle to ridicule your figure.”
Fernández accepts Lorenzo’s request to stay in Gonnet, and he ends the letter with an apology to the priest: “I apologize if I was wrong exposing you to this time of pain and public humiliation, but I do not doubt that the Lord will use all of this to bless your ministry and your community.”
February 2 – Archbishop Fernández publishes Lorenzo’s letter on the archdiocesan website.
February 14 – The archbishop’s judicial vicar sends a letter to Julian Frutos, the godfather of the alleged victim in the 2008 case. (It was Frutos who filed the original criminal complaint on behalf of his godson, who was still a minor.) The judicial vicar’s letter reportedly says that “the attack against the person of Father Lorenzo” is an attack against “the entire Church.”
The archbishop later will state that he “avoided any action that could be construed as interference” in the case, although he will concede that the archdiocese sent a letter to Frutos:
“There is only one letter sent by this Court in response to another from Mr. Frutos, who is not a victim. There the Court tells him that he has every right to act according to his conscience and only proposes that he avoid a constant media attack.”
February 24 – “León,” the alleged victim in the 2008 case, goes public with his account of abuse by Lorenzo in the media outlet Pulso Noticias. [In subsequent news accounts, León will further describe the sexual abuse he suffered, which allegedly included anal and oral rape.]
March 24 – With heavy media coverage and the prosecutor’s renewed attention to the case, the archbishop travels to Lorenzo’s parish to concelebrate a Mass during which Lorenzo renews his commitment to the priesthood. An article about the Mass is posted on the archdiocesan website.
March 25 – The day after the archbishop’s public appearance with Lorenzo, the prosecutor of La Plata, Ana Medina, re-opens the criminal case against the priest. Medina is the same prosecutor who archived the case in 2009.
April 3 – Lorenzo resigns as chaplain of the Buenos Aires Penitentiary Service, a position he held for more than 15 years. In his resignation letter to Archbishop Fernández, he blames the “slanderous and insulting media campaign that has been unleashed” against him.
By July 10, two more victims have come forward accusing Lorenzo of sexually assaulting them as minors. They describe to the prosecutor details of the “sexual games” that Lorenzo organized with altar boys aged between 13 and 16 years.
See also: Nuevas denuncias por abusos jaquean al cura Lorenzo y al Arzobispado de La Plata, by Estefanía Velo, Pulso Noticias, July 9, 2019
After the third victim comes forward, Archbishop Fernández as a “precautionary measure” prohibits Lorenzo from having contact with minors. He will later frame this as a significant step, but it appears to be little more than a reiteration of the prohibitions issued to all archdiocesan priests the previous December. (In his statement, he explicitly reminds Lorenzo of his “regulations for the prevention of abuses from December.”) The archbishop also asks the priest to delegate all pastoral activity with minors to his parochial vicar.
Noting that his instructions are not “sanctions,” however, the archbishop does not remove Lorenzo from ministry. The priest is allowed to continue to say Mass at his parish in Gonnet.
September 24 – Police raid the rectory of Inmaculada Madre de Dios church in Gonnet, seeking criminal evidence. Lorenzo is still in ministry at the parish.
October 9 – Lorenzo sends a letter to Archbishop Fernández requesting to step down as parish priest in Gonnet for “health reasons.” He cites the “slanderous campaign against me that has led to a false complaint and a series of acts of harassment that have exhausted me.”
The archbishop agrees to a leave of absence for the priest that will begin November 11. Later, in a December 1 statement summarizing his handling of the case, the archbishop will say that he directed Lorenzo to live in a residence where there were no minors. Importantly, however, despite the emergence of several accusers, Fernández still does not imply that the priest’s leave is a penalty or that he might pose a risk to children. The archbishop characterizes the leave instead as a granting of the priest’s request.
November 1 – A news outlet reports an upcoming demonstration in front of Inmaculada Madre de Dios parish in Gonnet, where Lorenzo reportedly is still saying Mass. At this point, five victims of Lorenzo have come forward.
November 10 – Lorenzo celebrates his final Mass at Inmaculada Madre de Dios parish in Gonnet.
December 1 – Archbishop Fernández publishes a statement summarizing and defending his handling of the case against Lorenzo. He appears to justify his refusal to sanction the priest, saying that the measures he has taken correspond to church law, given that “Fr. Lorenzo has not so far any conviction.”
December 11 – The Buenos Aires Forensic Expert Office submits their psychological analysis of Lorenzo to the prosecutor. Their analysis states that the priest “has a perverse, narcissistic and manipulative personality structure” and that “the place of the other is that of a mere object to satisfy his own desires.”
December 16 – The criminal court of La Plata orders the arrest of Lorenzo. He will be charged with corruption of minors and sexual abuse of at least five adolescents between 1990 and 2008.
December 17 – Lorenzo kills himself the day after the judge orders his arrest. Archbishop Fernández releases a brief statement, saying that Lorenzo had taken his life “after long months of enormous tension and suffering.” He issues no words of comfort to the victims, saying only that he would pray for “those who may have been offended or affected” by the charges against the priest.