The Vatican Requests Investigation into Abuse Allegations against Father Ilarraz
New testimonies could be added

Análisis Digital
September 4, 2013

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

The Vatican requested that Father Alejandro Bovero -- judicial vicar of the Inter-Diocesan Tribunal of Santa Fe, whose jurisdiction include the Diocese of Paraná -- open an initial investigation into the child abuse allegations against priest Justo José Ilarraz.

He [Bovero] already took the testimony of one victim, who had previously testified in the Entre Ríos courts.  Looking ahead, three new testimonies could be added [to the case].

“This investigation comes directly from Vatican orders.  It isn’t another ecclesiastical court case, which we adjudicate.  It is not a trial, but only an initial investigation,” said Bovero, who is parish priest at Sagrada Familia [Church], in Santo Tomé, and a teacher at Seminario de Santa Fe and Universidad Católica. 

In response to whether or not this type of investigation, ordered by the Vatican, is common, the priest said: “It’s closely considered in the Code of Canon Law.  The Holy See or its bishop can entrust to the tribunal, or to another priest, this type of initial investigation.”

Behind Closed Doors

Father Ilarraz is carrying the burden of a criminal case brought against him in the Entre Rios courts. In September 2012, the investigation proceedings commenced, amassing the testimonies of seven victims, who declared under oath that the priest (who was the Seminary’s Prefect of Discipline between 1985 and 1993) had abused them when they were adolescent students enrolled in their beginning years of high school.

The court document, entitled “ILARRAZ JUSTO JOSÉ S / PROMOCIÓN A LA CORRUPCIÓN AGRAVADA,” was sent as part of an appeal to the Criminal Court of the Superior Tribunal of Justice (STJ), which will decide on the statute of limitations petition made by the priest’s defense.  The First Chamber of the Criminal Court already ruled that the period of prescription had expired for the crimes.  If this judgment is confirmed by the high court, prosecutor Jorge Amílcar García -- as published in El Diario -- indicated that he would go to the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, and he didn’t rule out an appeal to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Eighteen years ago, the Church knew about the abuses attributed to Ilarraz, when then-Archbishop of Paraná, Estanislao Esteban Karlic, gave an order to priest Silvio Fariña Vaccarezza to lead a preliminary investigation that heard testimony from three victims.  This initial inquiry also took testimony from Andrés Senger, a well-known priest (who died over a year ago) and Spiritual Director of the Seminary.  [In his testimony] he revealed a key fact, claiming that larraz had been abused as a seminarian.

After the investigation concluded, Karlic, in 1996, determined that the case was closed.  He prohibited Ilarraz from returning to the diocese, and sent all documentation to Rome, the Congregation for the Clergy, and the Vicariate of Rome.

On July 25, 1995, Karlic gave a full report of the facts to the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Tarcisio Bertone (who until a week ago was Secretary of State), informing him of the denunciations against Father Ilarraz, which fell under “the worst crime” (de crimine pessimo), which is how [the Code of Canon Law] classifies pedophilia.

But there was no further news about what happened following this course of action.  Also, Karlic never notified the Inter-Diocesan Tribunal of Santa Fe.  Nor did he take the case to the ordinary courts.  The victims, meanwhile, were made to sign agreements that obligated them to stay silent about the events they experienced.

First Step

The Vatican therefore already had the first three denunciations.  Now there is a fourth, which is in the hands of the Inter-Diocesan Tribunal, and was ordered by Rome.  And, in recent days, three additional denunciations, [bringing the total to seven].

The Inter-Diocesan Tribunal investigation stems from a presentation in April by lawyers Marcelo Baridón and Álvaro Piérola, legal representative for one of the seven victims in the criminal case in the province court of justice.

In their presentation, [the lawyers] charge Ilarraz with violation of the sixth commandment (“you shall not commit impure acts”), based on Canon 1395 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that “a cleric who persists with scandal in another external sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is to be punished by a suspension. If he persists in the delict after a warning, other penalties can gradually be added, including dismissal from the clerical state.”

The second part of Canon 1395 goes on to say that “a cleric who in another way has committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict was committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.”

With this documentation in hand, the Judicial Vicar of the Inter-Diocesan Tribunal is now leading a preliminary investigation at the request of the Vatican.

“What kind of steps can you take?”

“At this level [of the investigation], none.  [I can] only complete the initial investigation, and deliver the findings to the Vatican.  The Vatican makes all the decisions, which are then executed by the corresponding bishop.  The investigation began about one and a half months ago.”

“Will they call Ilarraz to testify?”
“That will happen after we receive instructions.  He would be summoned at another stage of proceedings, not during this preliminary investigation.”

“So will there be another stage of proceedings?”
“This isn’t even the first stage, it’s only a preliminary step, prior to all stages of proceedings.”

“What are the charges?”
“It falls under serious crimes, which are well established in the Code of Canon Law.  [The charges are classified as] abuse of minors.  It remains to be seen if this case will take shape, bearing in mind that it resurfaces after almost 30 years.”

“And the period of prescription?”
“Yes, it’s 20 years, previously it was 10 years.  But I’m not the one who’ll decide on the prescription status.  That’ll be resolved by the Vatican.  On principle, the period has passed.  But we’ll have to see.  They (Vatican officials) properly handle the matter of dates.  We only carry out the initial investigation.”


The Catholic Church has its own judicial system that deals with cases related to “spiritual matters,” the violation of ecclesiastical laws, and all that is caused by sin, [thereby] instituting ecclesiastical sanctions. 

There are various levels [of authority]:

a) The Roman Pontiff, who is the supreme judge for the entire Catholic world, renders judicial decisions either personally, or through the ordinary tribunals of the Apostolic See, or through appointed judges.

b) The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court in the Catholic Church.

c) The Roman Rota, which is the ordinary tribunal formed by the Roman Pontiff to receive appeals.  It normally functions as a court of third instance. 

d) And the diocesan tribunals of each country.  In Argentina, there are five inter-diocesan courts of first instance and one national court of second instance. The “Nº 5” is the Inter-Diocesan Tribunal of Santa Fe, which has jurisdiction over the archdioceses of Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz, Paraná, Corrientes, Rosario and Resistencial, and the dioceses of Formosa, San Roque de Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña, Santo Tomé, Puerto Iguazú, Posadas, Reconquista, Goya, and Rafaela.

[The Inter-Diocesan Tribunal of Santa Fe] is presided over by José María Arancedo, Archbishop of Santa Fe, and President of the Bishopric; and Father Alejandro Bovero, Judicial Vicar.


















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