Poor treatment by archdiocese pushed sex abuse victim out of the Church
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Vatican insider Marco Tosatti recently reported the case of Gabriel Ferrini, a young Argentinian man who was sexually abused by a priest of the diocese of Quilmes, in the province of Buenos Aires, in 2002. Ferrini was 15 years old at the time, and in 2013, a court ordered the diocese to pay restitution to both Gabriel Ferrini and his mother, Beatriz Varela.
A fewnewsoutlets picked up on the story, highlighting the fact that Tosatti took the article down from his blog almost immediately after publication. Speaking to Church Militant, Tosatti explained that he initially believed he was breaking a story but then realized the case had already been fully documented by watchdog website Bishop Accountability, which claimed that "Argentinian bishops are among the least transparent in the worldwide Church" years ago. Tosatti took it down as it was ill-timed.
Even though it all started 16 years ago, it's difficult to find reports outside of Argentina. Very few articles can be found in English, even though the ruling has repeatedly been quoted as "historical," as it was the first time in the country that a diocese was considered culpable in a case of sexual abuse by one of their priests. Some have speculated it might have been because of the involvement of the archdiocese of Buenos Aires, at the time under the guidance of Cdl. Jorge Bergoglio, who had just been elected Pope when the court announced its decision.
On Aug. 15, 2002, Catholic widow and mother of three, Beatriz Varela, invited Fr. Rubén Pardo, the 50-year-old priest from the church next door, with whom she had a close relationship, to have dinner in her home with her children. As a lifelong Catholic (Varela was a catechist who worked in a Catholic school, her brother is a deacon and her mother was a Legionary of Mary), Varela thought the priest could offer moral and spiritual guidance for her teenage son, Gabriel Ferrini.
After dinner, Fr. Pardo suggested he and the boy continued talking in his parish house, and that Ferrini was welcome to sleep over if he wanted to serve at Mass the next morning. The mother trustingly gave her permission, and Ferrini, who saw Fr. Pardo as a "fatherly figure," thought the priest was acting paternally when inviting the boy to sleep on the same bed.
In his naivety, Gabriel Ferrini didn't expect to be assaulted.
"I knew I was being violated, but I couldn't think of what to do to avoid it, because I was so shocked and scared," he told the prosecutor. As soon as Fr. Pardo fell asleep, Ferrini escaped and went back to his house to tell his mother what had happened.
I knew I was being violated, but I couldn't think of what to do to avoid it, because I was so shocked and scared.
Varela immediately turned to the Church for help. Two days after her son had been molested, she had an audience with Msgr. Luis Teodorico Stöckler, bishop of Quilmes, where she handed over a letter from her son describing the abuse. Bishop Stöckler seemed empathetic at first, and on Aug. 19, Fr. Pardo confessed everything to the bishop, while "crying bitterly and asking for forgiveness."
Despite the priest's confession, in the second audience, Bp. Stöckler was much more reticent:
[Bp. Stöckler] told me I should be more merciful with people who chose celibacy as a vocation, because they can have moments of weakness. I couldn't believe that he ... said something so atrocious. ... I told him I had been celibate for 13 years, even though celibacy isn't my vocation. I did it in order to dedicate entirely to my children, so they wouldn't be exposed to harm, without realizing that the danger was inside the Church.
Father Rubén Pardo's sole punishment was a canonical admonition for "violation of the sixth commandment" — "You shall not commit adultery." He was transferred to another parish and was forbidden to say Mass or give public and private declarations for a month. He died on Oct. 6, 2005 due to complications related to AIDS, ending the criminal case against him.
In December 2002, the diocese of Quilmes stopped paying for Gabriel Ferrini and his mother's psychological treatment. The payment ceased once Varela submitted the receipt of a legal consultation with a Buenos Aires organization dedicated to the support of sexual abuse victims. When questioned by Varela, Bp. Stöckler said that "enough time had passed for the solution of this problem," and he has never tried to reach out to the family ever since.
At around this time, Varela tried to plead with the inter-diocesan ecclesiastical court in Buenos Aires. Varela claims she was kicked out of the waiting room by the court's president, Msgr. Jorge Rodé, who insisted she should report the abuser to the diocese of Quilmes. A priest in the waiting room offered to take her to the Metropolitan Curia to try to speak to the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cdl. Bergoglio. The cardinal's receptionist didn't give Varela an appointment because of her refusal to reveal the reason for the meeting. Varela still tried to leave Cdl. Bergoglio a note, but was then escorted out of the premises by security guards.
After exhausting all her options in the Catholic Church, Beatriz Varela finally filed a criminal complaint at the beginning of February 2003. At the end of the month, prosecutor Pablo Pérez Marcote forwarded a request to the diocese of Quilmes inquiring "urgently" about Fr. Pardo's whereabouts.
The diocese's reply was evasive: "To date, Fr. Rubén Pardo's pastoral destination hasn't been determined and he resides outside the territorial jurisdiction of this diocese." In September 2003, Fr. Pardo was discovered living in clergy house "Mons. Mariano Espinosa" in Buenos Aires. Reportedly, Pardo had been hearing confessions and working in a primary school whilst living there. It's unlikely that the priest lived in the clergy house known for taking in retired priests without Cdl. Bergoglio's permission, which is why Beatriz Varela claims Cdl. Bergoglio acted compliantly. According to Argentinian newspaper Pagina 12, Fr. Pardo was transferred at least twice before passing away, always around Buenos Aires.
Interestingly enough, clergy house "Mons. Mariano Espinosa" has always been known as Cdl. Bergoglio's choice for retirement. According to Aleteia, "The decision was widely known among those who worked with him." Even the room had allegedly already been set up for future Archbishop Emeritus Cdl. Jorge Bergoglio had he not become the Pope — room number 13, on the ground floor.
On April 2004, after Fr. Pardo’s case was exposed on national television, Bp. Stöckler released a statement saying he had reported Fr. Rubén Pardo to the Holy See, who put the ecclesiastical court of Buenos Aires in charge of the case. He also denied that the diocese had ceased to help with mother and son’s psychological treatment, but that it was Varela who “no longer turned to the diocese when she decided to file a criminal complaint against the priest."
A month later, Varela and her son were summoned to the inter-diocesan ecclesiastical court of Buenos Aires. According to Varela, the four priests on the panel asked them "lascivious" questions unrelated to the crime and kept questioning her son's sexuality. Cardinal Bergoglio was a moderator in the court but was not present at Varela's hearing.
Beatriz Varela's indignation was aggravated by the fact the diocese of Quilmes had been covering up for Fr. Rubén Pardo for decades. Monsignor Marcelo Daniel Colombo (currently second vice-president of the Argentinian Bishops' Conference and bishop of Rioja) was the rector of the diocesan seminary of Quilmes when Fr. Pardo undertook his studies. Msgr. Colombo confirmed to Varela that he had Fr. Pardo transferred to another seminary due to his "inappropriate conducts."
The police also discovered that, before joining the diocese of Quilmes, the priest was part of the Order of the Camillians, where he had been isolated "for not having the right conditions for religious co-existence." And Fr. Isidoro Psenda, also from the diocese of Quilmes, told Beatriz Varela that he and 10 other priests went to Msgr. Jorge Novak (the previous bishop of Quilmes) and warned the bishop about Pardo's "inadequacy for celibacy," but Msgr. Novak decided to ordain him a priest anyway.
In October 2012, a court in Quilmes ruled that the diocese had been negligent in its management of Fr. Pardo and ordered it to pay restitution to Gabriel Ferrini and Beatriz Varela. The diocese appealed, arguing that Pardo had been employed by an autonomous parish at the time and that Beatriz Varela was partly responsible because she allowed her son to spend the night in the priest's residence. In April 2013 the court rejected these arguments and upheld the previous ruling. The diocese was ordered to pay the plaintiffs 155,000 pesos (about $6,000) plus ten years' interests in compensatory damages.
'They spent fruitless years seeking an audience with Francis' and ... 'they were turned away by his office or offered gifts instead of a meeting.'
In 2014, the GlobalPost traveled to Argentina to hear the stories of victims of clerical sexual abuse. All of them declared that "they spent fruitless years seeking an audience with Francis" and that "they were turned away by his office or offered gifts instead of a meeting." GlobalPost also released videos of each of them with a message for Pope Francis. Beatriz Varela resisted at first, saying she had "nothing to say" to him, but then emotionally said to the camera, "This is a message to Pope Francis: Do as you say you will do. Be sure to follow everything you say with actions. If the Church is to have zero tolerance towards abuse, all the priests you are aware of, whose names and addresses you know, must be gathered up and put in jail now. ... Do what God wants, for all of us.”
Beatriz Varela and Gabriel Ferrini have both stated that they still believe in God, but they have left the Catholic Church.