Diocese of Quilmes Sentenced to Pay Compensatory Damages for Sex Abuse Committed by a Priest
Civil Liability and Divine Responsibility
By Mariana Carbajal
March 17, 2013
[Translated into English by BishopAccountability.org. Click below to see original article in Spanish.]
The unprecedented ruling holds the diocese responsible for the acts of pedophilia perpetrated by a priest. The priest, now deceased, confessed to the crime but merely received a “canonical warning” as punishment.
[Photo Caption: Beatriz Cándida Varela expected the Church to excommunicate the priest who abused her son, but after no action was taken, she filed the criminal complaint.]
For the first time in Argentina, a Catholic Church diocese was sentenced to pay compensatory damages to a victim of sexual abuse by one of its priests. In the ruling (to which Página/12 had access), Civil and Commercial Court No. 2 of Quilmes judged the Diocese of Quilmes responsible for the acts of pedophilia committed by a priest and thus obligated them to pay about 155,000 pesos plus payments [related to costs incurred] from the last 10 years, to the young man, who was abused when he was 15, and his mother, who until the episode of abuse was a very devout, practicing Catholic.
The ruling has been appealed by the diocese. The priest, who confessed to committing the abuse, merely received as punishment a “canonical warning” from then-bishop Monsignor Luis Stöckler for violation of the Sixth Commandment: “thou shall not commit impure acts.” The priest was then transferred to another diocese, where he took refuge, without ever having been expeled from the Church, until he died of AIDS on June 10, 2005.
The Church never acknowledged the abuse as an abhorrent crime, and instead [referred to it] simply as “a weakness characteristic of someone who abstains from sexual relations.” The victim’s mother went so far as to attempt to arrange an in-person meeting with Jorge Bergoglio, then head of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, in order to inform him of the abuse. But she was never granted the meeting (see related article: “I Never Got a Response”).
The sexual abuse occurred in the early hours of August 15, 2002 at the Catholic’s Church’s House of [Priestly] Formation, in Berazategui, which is owned by the Diocese of Quilmes. The night before, Beatriz Cándida Varela -- a Catholic woman deeply committed to the Church, a catechist, widow, and mother of three, and whose brother is a deacon -- invited Father Rubén Pardo, about 50 years old, to her home.
She wanted him to speak to her two sons, ages 15 and 14, as a spiritual advisor and guide them in matters of faith and morals. Pardo was well known to the family. [That night] he had a private chat with the elder brother, whom we'll call Marcos, but because their conversation was interrupted by dinner, the priest asked the mother if he could take her son to spend the night at his residence, in the House of Formation, whose property bordered Beatriz’s house, in order to continue their conversation from earlier, and also have Marcos assist him the next day during Holy Day of Obligation (Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary), since the [assigned] parish priest was away on travel. Pardo was himself in charge of finding replacements [when someone was out of town]. He also was chaplain at Hospital Iriarte, in Quilmes.
The boy’s mother agreed. She trusted Pardo because he was a priest. When her son had finished his private chat with Pardo, he’d said to her: “He talked to me as if he were my dad.”
For Marcos, it was a trip to hell. As denounced to the Investigative Unit of the Quilmes Judicial Department (UFI No. 8), which specializes in sex crimes, once [Pardo and Marcos] got to Casa de Formación, and the boy was in the priest’s bedroom, Pardo invited him to come to his bed. The boy innocently accepted the invitation, which he interpreted as a fatherly gesture. The priest proceeded to sexually abuse him.
“I knew he was violating me, but I didn’t know how to avoid it because I was very scared and in a state of shock,” Marcos said [in his testimony]. He waited until the priest fell asleep so he could escape. He returned to his home by jumping over the dividing wall at the back end of the House of Formation grounds, which bordered his own backyard. As soon as he arrived home, still in a state of shock, he told his mother what happened. Pardo had told him not to tell anyone.
The case was first reported by Página/12 in 2004, when the priest was still alive and the Catholic Church kept him in their rank and file. He was never expelled from the Church. The criminal case proceeded [against him], but ended without resolution when he died.
The [Canonical] Warning
Beatriz went immediately to see Bishop Stöckler, who then met with her on three subsequent occasions. She wanted the abhorrent crime that her son had experienced to be punished with the priest’s expulsion from the Catholic Church, an institution that she trusted and respected. However, following her disillusion and anger at the way things were handled by church leadership, she intends to erase all trace of her Catholic identity and formally disaffiliate from the religion. She hasn’t lost her faith or religiosity, only now she says: “I have a direct line to God.”
Not only was Bishop Stöckler informed of the sexual abuse by the victim’s mother, but he arranged a meeting with Pardo during which he confessed to the crime. As punishment, he received a mere “canonical warning” for violating the Sixth Commandment (“thou shall not commit impure acts”).
The canonical warning was signed by Father Pardo on August 20, 2002, just five days after the incident. In the warning, the bishop urged him to “leave the parish jurisdiction” and refrain from giving Mass for a month or make any “public or private” statement on the matter.
Stöckler, who in 2011 stepped down as Bishop of Quilmes, never described the sexual abuse as a crime per se: he simply considered it an “infraction.” Nor did he recommend that the priest undergo treatment.
Beatriz began a long journey in her attempts to denounce the crime to various church officials, including members of the Ecclesiastical Court and the Metropolitan Curia, located next to the Metropolitan Cathedral.
The Ecclesiastical Court opened a case against Pardo. But Beatriz never learned what became of those proceedings. She wanted an exemplary punishment to be imposed on the pedophile priest by the Catholic Church that she so strongly believed in. She never got it.
Finally, faced with the inaction of church leadership, she denounced the crime on February 4, 2003 to the secular legal system. A criminal case was opened, but never reached a resolution due to Pardo’s death.
Before his death, the priest was summoned to testify but couldn’t be located. According to lead investigator Pablo Pérez Marcote, head of UFI 8, church leadership was reluctant to provide his whereabouts. “By the time I called for his detention, he’d already died,” Mauro Pagliuca, lawyer for Beatriz and her son, told Página/12. Pagliuca represented the family in the civil case.
The ruling, which requires the Diocese of Quilmes to pay compensatory damages for the sexual abuse suffered by Marcos, is unprecedented in Argentina. “I searched and didn’t find any prior court order of a similar nature,” said Pagliuca in conversation with Página/12.
The Diocese of Quilmes only paid four months of psychological treatment for Marcos and Beatriz, [which they underwent] immediately following the sexual abuse incident. But when diocese officials learned that the mother had had a legal consultation, they cut off financial assistance to her and her son. A year ago, Marcos attempted suicide.