BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (ChurchMilitant.com) - An Argentine abuse survivor is calling on Pope Francis to support a bill lifting the statute of limitations on sex abuse crimes in his native Argentina.
The bill, presented to the Argentine senate on July 10, has been building momentum, thanks to 51-year-old Ricardo Benedetti, a suvivor of clerical sex abuse.
A law removing the statute of limitations was already passed in neighboring Chile on July 6.
One of the Argentine legislators, Lorena Matzen, who supports the bill, said, "Pain doesn't have a deadline," adding, "Child abuse can be compared to 'crimes against humanity.'"
"It's said to be an exaggeration, but we know that when a child suffers sexual abuse, it can be like being dead while alive," she said.
Argentina needs to be sure such crimes are prosecuted because victims can only have peace when their abusers are sentenced, she insisted.
Benedetti says he was molested by Fr. Héctor Ricardo Giménez when he was eight years old.
Laura Santos, author of "Historias de abusos sexuales dentro de la iglesia católica en Argentina," published in January 2019, tells the stories of four survivors who suffered abuse at the hands of Giménez, one of which is Benedetti:
When he was eight years old, he was sexually abused by the priest Héctor Ricardo Giménez. It all began on December 6, 1974, in the parish of Santa Clara, in the Flores neighborhood [of Buenos Aires].
Richard was preparing to confess for the first time, two days later he would take communion. In the confessional he met his playboy, who warned him that what was going on in there could not be told ... .
He [Giménez] was groping my genitals. I was paralyzed and silent, I was silent until Sunday when I took communion and kept quiet for 42 years. What could I do at eight years old, my old era of Catholic action, I felt like I was trapped in a system, how did I defend myself? ...
Until June 2018 the mind of Ricardo Benedetti blocked what happened in that confessional.
Benedetti reported Giménez to civil authorities but not to the Church because the priest had already been tried under canon law. Under Argentine law, too much time had passed to charge Giménez with a crime, though his accusers did persuade authorities to take a sample of the priest's blood to add him to a national registry of sexual offenders.
In 2016, Hector Aguer, then-archbishop of La Plata, released a statement saying the priest had been investigated, found guilty and a "just" punishment imposed. It's unclear what the punishment was and if it came from a local ecclesiastical tribunal or from the Vatican.
In 2014, Julieta Añazco, another alleged victim and sex abuse activist, went to the Vatican to present Francis with a letter explaining her case and asking him to tell Aguer to make the archdiocesan investigation public. In a blog post titled "Abuses in the Church: Priest Hector Ricardo Giménez," Añazco details Giménez's misdeeds starting as far back as 1971 and subsequent cover-ups by prelates.
The activist reported that Giménez is currently free, living in a private house, and he celebrates Masses in the chapel of the Hospital San Juan de Dios de La Plata.
Benedetti, too, has noted that Giménez is still alive, living in La Plata, some 25 miles from Buenos Aires.
It's for cases such as this one that the newly proposed bill would be important, Benedetti said.
Although he is providing the main impetus for the new bill, he says it's important to have "the support of his fellow Argentine, the pope."
"I'm one of the several people who were victims of clerical sexual abuse in his home country," Benedetti said. "It touches him because it has to do with what he did, and could have done, as archbishop of Buenos Aires and president of the bishops' conference."
Benedetti said,"It would be a great step [for survivors] if [the pope] were to accompany the bill proposal, because there are more than a few senators and deputies who would listen to him,”
"If he wants to take the matter of providing justice to survivors, and preventing these crimes from ever happening again seriously, he can count me as an ally," Benedetti said, saying he would like to have the opportunity to have a "frank conversation" with the pontiff.
Francis' avoidance of his native Argentina has raised eyebrows, especially in light of his predecessors' almost immediate visits to their home countries once elected pontiff (Pope John Paul II visited Poland in 1979 and Pope Benedict visited Germany in 2005). Some speculate it's owing to Francis' reputation among critics for sex abuse cover-up.
One example is the case of Gabriel Ferrini, a 15-year-old Argentinian, abused by Fr. Ruben Pardo in 2002. Immediately after being violated, the youth reported the crime to his mother, who went to the bishop of Quilmes (subordinate to the Province of Buenos Aires, whose archbishop at that time was Jorge Bergoglio). The mother tried to communicate with Abp. Bergoglio, but he refused to receive her and ordered his bodyguards to prevent her from entering his residence.
Church Militant has reported on Francis' protection of clerical abusers as archbishop, cardinal and pope, most recently Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò's revelations that the pope was aware of abuse taking place at the Vatican's St. Pius X Pre-Seminary, just steps from Casa Santa Marta. The alleged abuser in question went on to be ordained, while the whistleblower was expelled from seminary and the investigator assigned to the case was removed from his diocese.