BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (ChurchMilitant.com) - Long before Pope Francis lifted sanctions from serial sexual predator Theodore McCarrick, he covered for a raft of predator priests in his native Argentina.
Among these was notorious abuser Fr. Mario Napoleón Sasso.
Father Sasso was first accused of molesting children while stationed in a poor, rural province in eastern Argentina in 1994. In 1997, he was sent to Domus Mariae, a treatment center for sexually abusive clergy located in the diocese of Zárate-Campana in the province of Buenos Aires. There, he was diagnosed as a pedophile.
In 1998, Sasso was discharged from the facility with orders never to be allowed around children.
Just three years later, Bp. Rafael Rey of Zárate-Campana assigned Fr. Sasso — by then, a known abuser — to work at a soup kitchen for impoverished children. Over the next two years, Sasso went on to sexually assault at least five girls, ages 11 to 14, by luring them to his bedroom with offers of candy and television.
Sasso threatened his victims to guarantee their silence, but in 2003, one of the girls reported her abuse to Lia López, who worked in the parish soup kitchen. López immediately notified the diocesan vicar, who reportedly informed Bp. Rey.
But Rey did nothing to remove the predator priest.
Refusing to back down, López reported Sasso to the police herself, and in December 2003, authorities ordered the priest's arrest.
Sasso escaped Argentina briefly, but was captured a month later while trying to re-enter the country from Paraguay.
Over the next two years, more Sasso victims came forward. Together with their attorney, in 2006, the girls' families asked to meet with Cdl. Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires and the newly elected president of the Argentine bishops' conference.
Though Bergoglio's cathedral was just 25 miles from the scene of Sasso's crimes, the cardinal did not respond to the families' request. He offered them no apology or financial restitution. And he took no action against Sasso.
In 2007, Sasso was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse of minors and handed a 17-year prison sentence. While in prison, he was voluntarily laicized. He married and has since been paroled.
The clerical sex abuse scandal triggered by the June revelation of McCarrick's crimes awakened Catholics across the world to what many in Argentina already knew: Though preaching "zero tolerance" for clerical sex abuse, Pope Francis' actual record is one of silence and cover-up.