21 March 2014, The Tablet

Future Pope accused of failing abuse victims while archbishop

Pope Francis has been accused of failing to take appropriate action in a number of cases of clerical child abuse that came to light while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

According to the American organisation BishopAccountability.org, the cases all came to Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s attention, but he is accused of defending the perpetrators or declining to meet victims.

In the case of Fr Julio Cesar Grassi, who was convicted of abuse in a children’s home after a lengthy trial and appeal, the Argentine Bishops’ Conference commissioned a report after his conviction in 2009 which concluded he was innocent. The website’s main accusation against the Pope is that he was supportive of Fr Grassi and the children’s foundation set up by the priest before the accusations emerged. He also reportedly approved the commissioning of the report into Grassi, who is now in prison.

The abuse of five girls by Fr Mario Napoleon Sasso of Zarate Campana diocese between 2002 and 2003 in a community soup kitchen was allegedly covered up by his diocesan bishop. Cardinal Bergolio allegedly failed to respond when the families of the young girls asked to meet him.

Fr Ruben Pardo admitted to his bishop in Quilmes Diocese that he had sexually assaulted a boy. He was then found by police at the home of the auxiliary bishop in Flores in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. The website claims it is unlikely that Pardo was able to live and minister in the diocese without the approval of Cardinal Bergoglio.

Another case involves a payout by a religious order to prevent criminal charges from being brought against one member, Marianist Br Fernando Picciochi SM. The settlement included a gagging order on the victims. When Picciochi fled to America one victim enquired with Cardinal Bergoglio’s secretary about having the gagging order lifted. The victim said he was referred to Fr Mario Poli (now Archbishop of Buenos Aires) who he claimed never responded. Picciochi was eventually extradited and imprisoned.

While the cases have been raked over in the public domain in some detail, BishopAccountability argues that they illustrate a failure on the part of the now Pope to stamp out child abuse with sufficient vigour.

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