For the First Time in Argentina, the Justice System Ordered the Church to Compensate the Victim of a Pedophile Priest
“This Verdict Gives Me a Great Deal of Peace and Relief”
By Mariana Carbajal
April 29, 2013
[Translated into English by BishopAccountability.org. Click below to see original article in Spanish.]
The Diocese of Quilmes must compensate a young man and his mother. The priest was protected by the Church despite the fact that he confessed that he had abused the young man when he was a boy. The mother stated that “the Church is no longer going to be able to act with the same impunity.”
[Photo caption: Beatriz Varela, the abused boy’s mother, battled for 10 years in the courts.]
The Quilmes Court of Appeals upheld the judgment that sentenced the Diocese of Quilmes to pay compensatory damages for their responsibility for the acts of pedophilia committed by a priest of the diocese. This is a landmark ruling: the first time the Justice System of Argentina has ordered the Catholic Church to compensate a sex abuse victim for the damages caused by such an abhorrent crime. “I’m pleased. This is what we were seeking: justice,” Beatriz Varela, the mother of the young man, who was abused when he was 14, told Página/12. She battled for 10 years so that the case didn’t go unpunished.
Gabriel, now 25, who until now was known as “Marcos” to conceal his identity, decided to break the silence and agreed to talk to Página/12 about the episode that marked his life. He harshly questioned the attitude adopted by the Diocese to conceal the abusive priest. “They wanted to portray us as liars. With no evidence to use against us, they sought out people to speak badly about my mom’s scruples, in order to silence us. This verdict gives me a great deal of peace and relief. I’m glad it’ll serve so that other victims know the Church can no longer act with the same impunity,” Gabriel (his real name) told Página/12 in an exclusive interview.
The family’s lawyer, Mauro Pagliuca, informed Página/12 that the ruling was just rendered by Sala II of the Quilmes Court of Appeals, presided by judges Eleazar Abel Reidel, Horacio Carlos Manzi, and Julio Ernesto Cassanello. Their judgment ratifies the first-instance ruling in December by Civil and Commercial Court No. 2 of Quilmes, which sentenced the Bishop of Quilmes to indemnify [the victim] for moral damages (120,000 pesos) and pay for his psychotherapeutic treatment (7,800 pesos). The judgment also awards compensation to Gabriel’s mother, who for ten years has been struggling to bring justice to the sex abuse perpetrated by priest Rubén Pardo against her son: [she’ll receive] 20,000 pesos for moral damages and 7,800 pesos for psychotherapeutic treatment. In total, the Diocese of Quilmes must pay out 155,600 plus payments [related to costs incurred] from the last 10 years. Once they’re notified, the parties have ten days to appeal.
The sexual abuse occurred in the early hours of August 15, 2002, as previously reported by this newspaper. The priest confessed the facts to then-bishop of Quilmes, Luis Stöckler, but the bishop merely imposed a “canonical warning” for violation of the Sixth Commandment (“thou shall not commit impure acts”). The priest was then transferred to other dioceses, where he was given refuge, without ever facing expulsion from the Church, until he died of AIDS on June 10, 2005.
He ended up residing at a home in the Vicariate of Flores, which belonged to the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, presided over by Monsignor Jorge Bergoglio, now known as Francisco, leader of The Vatican. This fact is contained in the criminal case, which was filed away after Pardo died. The Church never acknowledged that the abuse was an abhorrent crime, and instead [referred to it] simply as “a weakness characteristic of someone who abstains from sexual relations.”
Beatriz Varela, Gabriel’s mother, was a very religious woman and, like her entire family, deeply committed to the Church. But the attitude adopted by church leadership in response to her son’s abuse caused her to distance herself from the institution. Gabriel followed suit.
“I don’t want to be an accomplice to an institution that hides the truth,” said the young man in conversation with Página/12. He recalls he “had many friends in connection with the church because ever since I was a small boy we frequented” that environment, but he too distanced himself [from the church] after the abuse was denounced. “I lost a ton of friends. I felt all alone,” he said. “My mom made the decision to distance herself when she realized they weren’t responding to the seriousness of what had happened to me. It could have happened to one of their own children; we’re talking about a pedophile. Unbelievable how blind they can be. The people we knew in the church did not stand by us. They didn’t want to take a stand and commit to petitioning for a serious punishment. And this attitude, sadly, was taken by some of my family members, who are very devout, like my mom’s brother and their mother,” he said. This is the first time he spoke to the media about the sexual abuse he suffered a decade ago.
Like his two siblings, Gabriel attended religious schools and assisted the priests during Mass. His mother, until her retirement last year, held a teaching position at Colegio Manuel Belgrano, which is owned by the Diocese of Quilmes. She taught catechism and did volunteer work for Movimiento de los Focolares and Obra de María. Her brother is a deacon. Her mother (Gabriel’s grandmother) served in La Legión de María, where she was responsible for a youth group, worked at the church supply store at a chapel in Quilmes, and was a loyal supporter of Movimiento de los Focolares.
Beatriz’s family never wanted her to denounce the abuse to the secular legal system.
“What do you think of the attitude of the Diocese of Quilmes in response to the sex abuse you suffered,” Página/12 asked Gabriel.
“It’s outrageous. I was just a boy, about to turn 15, and didn’t understand a whole lot. I saw my mother suffer. She was brave and put herself on the line, and was a victim of mistreatment by the Catholic Church. The institution wanted to conceal [what happened].”
Among the actions that Gabriel’s mother took was to circulate knowledge of the abuse among the parishioners of Berazategui, where she and her son live, by posting a written letter and account of the facts in various parishes in the area.
“Stöckler immediately released a statement that he sent to the media, which contradicted what my mom was saying. They wanted to portray us as liars. With no evidence to use against us, they sought out people to speak badly about my mom’s scruples,” Gabriel recalls. Even his grandmother refused to distribute his mom’s letter to avoid any confrontation with the priest of the parish she attended.
“How did the abuse affect you?”
“I attempted suicide. This was when the criminal case files went missing a couple years ago in court. It was evident they did everything in their power [to bring to bear the period of prescription] by having the civil case prescribe in court. I checked into a clinic for 15 days.”
Beatriz pointed out that, for two years, they looked for the criminal case files, which had been archived when the priest died.
Gabriel picks up the thread of conversation by returning to the traumatic episode: “Those experiences change who you are. They made me more distrustful. Not that I was living in fear, which I overcame with psychological treatment and the support of my family, but I did feel unprotected. For a long time I had nightmares, I couldn’t sleep. It was a very raw, very impactful experience. It’s something I'll remember for the rest of my life. I was ashamed of what others might come to think. [This shame] causes many people to refrain from revealing they were abused. With the therapy, you realize, you overcome it, you understand that you aren’t to blame, that these things happen because there are sick and twisted people.”
The abuse occurred in the early hours of August 15, 2002 at the Catholic Church’s House of [Priestly] Formation, in Berazategui, which is owned by the Diocese of Quilmes. The night before, Varela, by then a widow for several years, invited Father Rubén Pardo, about 50 years old, to her home.
She wanted him to speak to her two sons, ages 14 and 15, 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 Gabriel, but because their conversation was interrupted by dinner, the priest asked the mother if he could have her son spend the night at his residence, at the House of Formation, whose property bordered Beatriz’s, in order to continue their conversation from earlier, and also so that Marcos could assist him at Mass the following day [Holy Day of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary]. Since the parish priest was away on travel, Pardo was in charge of finding replacements [when someone was out of town]. He also was chaplain at Hospital Iriarte, in Quilmes.
The boy’s mother gave her consent. She trusted Pardo because he was a priest. Earlier, when her son had finished his private chat with Pardo, he’d said to her: “He talked with me as if he were my dad.”
For Gabriel it was a night of terror. As was subsequently reported to the Investigative Unit of the Quilmes Judicial Department (UFI No. 8), which specializes in sex crimes, once Pardo and the boy arrived at Casa de Formación, and were 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,” the young man said in his court testimony. Gabriel waited until Pardo fell asleep so that 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 backyard.
“I arrived home crying, scared, in crisis, and I told my mom what had happened to me. I managed to escape when he was sleeping. I don’t know how I found the courage to flee. I was very scared. At the time, I could hardly think,” Gabriel recalled in conversation with Página/12. Pardo had told him to not tell anyone what had happened.
Gabriel said he failed to understand why his mother didn’t immediately report the abuse to the police. “Only later did I understand: she’d hoped that the Church would take it upon itself to punish him and inflict a penalty commensurate with what he had done. The [canonical] warning was a joke. They even transferred him to the Vicariate of Flores, and we found out he was hearing confession from children in the primary schools. When I found out I thought: What is their logic? He abused a boy and they now have him hear confession from boys and girls. It was then that my mom decided to file the denunciation. I was in agreement. I didn’t want other kids to experience the same thing. I agreed to [her course of action] in order to end the impunity,” said Gabriel.
He’s a student at UBA [University of Buenos Aires] pursuing a degree in Labor Relations. In December, he left his job at a bank, and since then has been seeking a position related to his studies. The Court of Appeals ruling brought him immense satisfaction. But even more, it gave him “peace” and “relief because justice was served.” “I think [the verdict] can help other victims speak out. It gives me peace of mind to think that the Church can no longer act with the same impunity.”