Ilarraz on Trial: Legal Arguments for Inadmissibility of Statute of Limitations in Paraná Seminary Abuse Case
The priest will be called to testify
April 29, 2013
[Translated into English by BishopAccountability.org. Click below to see original article in Spanish.]
After a long wait, Alejandro Grippo, the presiding judge in the Ilarraz case for the abuse of minors at Seminario Menor in Paraná, has ruled that the statute of limitations, insisted on by the defense, is inadmissible in court.
The judge’s ruling was announced today at noon, but is dated April 26, 2013. Among the strongest arguments in the resolution, to which Análisis Digital had access, are the international laws that Argentina adheres to. Specifically, those laws governing the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which “establishes a clear doctrine (based on different international treaties) for the protection of children, following from what is known as ‘the highest interest of minors,’ which upholds a manifest need to investigate any and all violations of the rights of children or adolescents, and mandates that all necessary measures be taken to elucidate any and all actions under investigation. In reference to periods of prescription, such provisions or obstacles used by the defense that are intended to prevent the investigation or eventual punishment of the individual or individuals responsible for human rights violations, are deemed inadmissible in the court of law.”
The defense’s petition for the application of the statute of limitations, initiated by Ilarraz’s lawyer, Juan Ángel Fornerón, was officially denied last Friday by the judge, although the decision was announced today. The criminal proceedings thus far have included the declarations of seven of the victims, all of them having testified in court.
Among the legal measures taken by the prosecution is the request for the testimonies of Cardinal Estanislao Esteban Karlic and Bishop Juan Alberto Puíggari. However, both men, consistent with their actions in the past, have said they will not come forward to testify until there is a firm resolution on the statute of limitations. But now that the Court has taken a step in that direction, notwithstanding any subsequent countermeasures by the priest’s defense, all three men, Ilarraz, Karlic, and Puíggari, will at some point have to provide testimony to the judge.
Judge Alejandro Grippo, in consideration of the arguments put forth by the defense and the prosecution, ruled that the alleged crimes “are violations of the sexual integrity of the complainants during their childhood.” He said that “the fact that the alleged victims suffered attacks on their sexual integrity during their childhood at an educational establishment with religious affiliation, where they were students with room and board, away from their families, and that these offenses were allegedly committed by the individual who was responsible for their well-being… all this isn’t merely circumstantial, but instead must be given special consideration in the legal basis of this resolution, since the criminal proceedings are for multiple events separated in place and time, for which the law must be interpreted and applied according to the particularities of all facts [actual and alleged] brought to trial.”
In the same vein, the judge referred to “specific international norms obligatorily applied in our country,” citing the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling in the case of Almonacid-Arellano et al v. Chile, and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
Grippo also grounded his ruling in the legal standards set forth by “the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” emphasizing that “as evidenced by the alleged infringement of the rights of children (now plaintiffs) set forth in the aforementioned standards, due to the actions allegedly committed by Ilarraz, and his role as member of an institution of power and authority, which is the Catholic Church, during his tenure as Prefect of Discipline and spiritual advisor at a religious boarding school where he was responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of the students (now plaintiffs), which is to say that Ilarraz held the position of ‘guarantor,’ institutional and legal, of the rights of the alleged victims, who were living in extremely vulnerable conditions, given, allow me to emphasize, their young age at the time of the alleged abuses, and given the religious and spiritual subordination that is demanded of those who enroll at a religious boarding school with the characteristics of the rigid hierarchical structure of Paraná Seminary, whose students are separated from their nuclear families, isolated from society, under the guardianship of those who their families entrusted with the educational and spiritual formation of their children, in a place that is governed not only by ordinary school rules, but also by religious rules and regulations imposed as dogma…”
“…The violation of the rights of the alleged victims is not limited to the conduct demonstrated by Ilarraz, but is also reflected in the impossibility of the alleged victims to gain access to the legal system until the facts concerning the present accusations were ultimately denounced by the Public Prosecutor,” he added.
The judge referred to the American Convention on Human Rights, the National Constitution, and a verdict in a case in the Court of Justice of Catamarca Province: “…the imperatives that govern Argentina’s commitment to the Convention of Human Rights, retain their legal force in this case, even though the alleged victims are now adults. Failure to comply with our commitment to these imperatives would be the responsibility of the State; which is to say, in spite of the fact that the alleged victims are adults, the international obligations governing our nation’s response to the violation of children’s rights, remain in effect and are the standards that must be taken into account.”
In a verbatim reading, the judge revisited the July 5, 1995 judgment delivered by Karlic, then Archbishop of Paraná, who said: “In view of the serious possibility of Father Justo José Ilarraz’s actions as superior member of the seminary, a brief investigation” was carried out, after which, Karlic himself accepted and concluded that “…the damage done to individuals and institutions was revealed in the declarations concerning the behavior of Father Ilarraz when he was Superior at Seminario Menor.”
Regarding the internal documents kept in secrecy at the Church of Paraná, Judge Grippo said the alleged victims did not have “any legal representation to defend their rights,” nor did they receive differential treatment “in consideration of their age,” and that the ecclesiastical investigation “was neither exhaustive nor did it establish any historical truth, and there wasn’t any communication to authorities in the interest of safeguarding the universal rights of minors.”
He stressed the possibility of “very serious human rights abuses of the complainants, since not only would their freedom and sexual integrity have been violated, but also the conventional and thus international standards governing children’s rights…”
Finally, the judge made an urgent call for “concrete actions” because “it doesn’t suffice to proclaim to the world the preservation of children’s rights.”
Legal Arguments by the Public Prosecutor, Plaintiffs, and Representative for the Defense of Children
In the ruling, Judge Grippo referred to public prosecutor Juan Francisco Ramírez Montrull’s argument against the defense’s petition to apply the statute of limitations: “In view of the implicating events that presumably occurred between the years 1991 and 1992, and include the crime of corruption of minors, compounded by the defendant’s role as educational leader, the prosecution alleges the existence of other victims who may have been negatively affected by Ilarraz in later years. As a result, it’s premature to assert that the maximum amount of time in the statute of limitations has elapsed.”
In his argument, Ramírez Montrull said that “Law 26.275, known as Law Piazza, promulgated in September of last year as an amendment to the Penal Code with respect to the sanctioned terms of the period of prescription for offenses against the sexual integrity of minors,” mandates that “even after the criminal act ceases to be consequential for society, it’s inappropriate to keep the public in a state of uncertainty regarding any future criminal conduct, especially once the wounds have healed, which is unthinkable to the case under investigation.”
Montrull went on to say that “the stance taken by the defense has astounded us, since Ilarraz has had every conceivable opportunity to exercise without restriction his ministerial duties, but instead, during the brief period of time that these proceedings have lasted, he has limited himself to submitting a habeas corpus petition, a request for suspension of the proceedings, and a petition for the application of the period of prescription. Perhaps we were expecting an emphatic denial or plea of innocence regarding the extremely serious charges of pedophilia. That he hasn’t gives reason to believe that there is a high probability the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.”
The resolution also brought forth the arguments detailed in the criminal complaints, and cites the presentation of lawyers Marcos Rodríguez Allende and Walter Rolandelli, who harnessed their argument to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which “establishes a clear doctrine (based on different international treaties) for the protection of children, following from what is known as ‘the highest interest of minors,’ which upholds a manifest need to investigate any and all violations of the rights of children or adolescents, and mandates that all necessary measures be taken to elucidate any and all actions under investigation. In reference to the periods of prescription, such provisions or obstacles used by the defense that are intended to prevent the investigation or eventual punishment of the individual or individuals responsible for human rights violations, are deemed inadmissible in the court of law.”
The resolution also accounted for the arguments delivered by one of the plaintiffs, lawyer Milton Urrutia, who alluded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child: “the present case deals with crimes committed against children and adolescents who were, at the time, under the custody, care and will of the defendant, who hijacked their mind, body, and soul, and spirit. All this time has passed and they managed the psychological feat that liberated their consciousness and spirit. The international laws governing human rights are perfectly applicable to the actions of those who committed or enabled these crimes against humanity… our nation’s legal system mustn’t institute insurmountable obstacles that create disincentives to see that justice is served, in the quest for truth and the lawful punishment of the guilty.”
For their part, the plaintiffs, Marcelo Baridón and Álvaro Piérola, stressed the “battery of evidence that remains to be produced,” and remarked that the victims’ testimonies showed “remarkable courage to overcome the impossibilities inherent in the act of merely being able to denounce this kind of crimes in the first place,” and so “it’s appropriate to make a reasonably positive prognosis regarding the possibility that there may exist, in the short term, new complaints against Ilarraz.”
Meanwhile, Pablo Barbirotto, defendant for Children and the Poor, and in the capacity of representative of the Public Prosecutor for Minors, maintained that the crimes under investigation are not subject to any period of prescription because “when for reasons of institutional violence or when any member of a public or private institution who, in the position of guardian of a minor, fails to protect the interest of those in his or her care, and commits sexual assault in any of its various forms, such actions must be treated as crimes against the State.”
The Defense’s Argument
Ilarraz’s defense lawyer, Juan Ángel Fornerón, called for a ruling on the petition for a stay in proceedings, and that all “judicial inquiry” be suspended until that resolution is reached. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the prosecution’s attempts to incorporate Article 55 of the Penal Code, and emphasized that the origin of the criminal complaints is between 1991 and 1992, and since the sentence for those charges ranges from 10 to 15 years in prison, “the maximum period of prescription in the criminal proceedings will have expired for those charges, in the case that the facts deemed punishable.”
Regarding the petition for suspension of proceedings, Dr. Fornerón argued that his request “conforms to the merits of the articulated exception, which clearly prevents this process from going forward, given the apparent inactivity of the prosecutor and plaintiffs.” He goes on to reason that continuing with the criminal proceedings would subject his client to a process that “unjustifiably keeps him from resuming any sense of normalcy in his personal life and familial relationships, and if that weren’t already enough, an indefinite subjugation to a public persona that carries the unwarranted label of ‘abusive father’ or ‘pedophile priest’.”
Fornerón too named the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and cited “its numerous pronouncements on the rights of the defendant to be tried within a reasonable timeframe” and maintained that [the Inter-American Court of Human Rights] “has as an objective to prevent defendants from long-standing accusation in order to ensure that their guilt or innocence is determined in a timely manner.”
Additionally, Fornerón cited verdicts from Argentina’s Superior Criminal Court of Justice, and said that “every individual has the right to be free from suspicion and that the statute of limitations, such as it is in today’s legal system, is insufficient with respect to the reach of our constitutional guarantees.”
In closing, he grounded the basis of his argument in several articles of the Criminal Code of the National Constitution and the American Convention on Human Rights; and reserved the right “to appeal the case via extraordinary recourse to the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation of Argentina.”