Between Victim and Institutional Responsibility

By Washington Uranga
Página 12
June 11, 2009

 [Translated into English by Click below to see original article in Spanish.]

Throughout the trial and even after his conviction, Julio César Grassi’s strategy was always the same: to present himself as the victim of a campaign orchestrated by the media to convict him. In spite of all the evidence evaluated by the Court, the priest continues to insist on his innocence because doing so allows him to portray himself as a martyr, a characterization that has value only for himself and his unconditional supporters. Meanwhile, the Church’s hierarchy has stayed cautiously on the sidelines, trying to mitigate the institutional damage and reiterating its respect for the verdict.

Grassi's insistence on his innocence is yet another way of not accepting responsibility for the charges that proved his guilt. His proclamation of innocence can be read as one more manifestation of the perversity of the priest's behavior. In a final report published by a Catholic media outlet, Julio Grassi spoke of the attempts of a smear campaign to take justice into its own hands, asserting that such pretension not only “reaches the judges, but also society at large,” a conspicuous show that “creates a new reality at will and one that conforms to its interests.” He added: "I speak above all about the allied groups interested in taking me down.” Who are they? It was never clear which interest groups opposed and conspired against him. Except that the priest considers that the Court of Justice, which he also claimed to believe in, is now part of the conspiracy.

No details have been forthcoming regarding who provided the money for the costly defense of the priest, nor has there been transparency regarding other accusations that, in addition to the those already substantiated, revolve around the Foundation that purports to be dedicated to the protection of children and adolescents. And if Grassi talks about a media conspiracy out to get him, it must be said that his own defense was a complex media and marketing strategy to sell an image of him as victim and martyr. His own website recounts the merits of the priest, appeals for innocence, and prayers of his supporters. There is even an interactive survey on the main page that poses the question “Is Father Grassi innocent or guilty?” Not surprisingly, over 70% of voters declared him innocent, and only a quarter guilty. The remaining 5% didn’t have an opinion.

Bearing in mind the manner in which bishops operate, their fears, and institutional ambiguities, Grassi played all of it to his advantage. Although no high-ranking member of the Church supported him publicly, he said repeatedly that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio "is always by my side." While this support wasn’t explicit, neither did Bergoglio disavow the remark. But the condemned priest did not stop there. In recent statements he mentioned a total of twelve local bishops spanning the ideological spectrum, all of whom he claimed vouched their support for him. "I have also received support from the ambassador to the Vatican and a bishop of Angola,” he said.

In recent days the bishops have been privately calibrating the institutional damage brought about by Grassi’s conviction. Because while that which is judged is a single individual’s behavior, that same individual wears the vestments associated with – and therefore symbolic of – the Church. The judgment cast on the religious institution carries even more weight in light of the long rosary of child abuse committed by other members of the religious institution in various parts of the world.

Chances are that the ecclesiastical leaders will keep quiet. Their response is that “we’ve respected and will continue to respect Justice", adding that "one fact alone doesn’t implicate an entire institution." It's the way that the bishops choose to minimize damage.

But the costs are quite high, even at the institutional level. Because although it’s a matter of one person, Grassi is a minister who is clearly identified with the institution that trained him, the institution who stood to gain from the revenues that he generated from his myriad public activities. The Church will have to take a hard look at the institutional conditions that enable the inclusion in their ranks of this type of offender.


















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