KEY WEST, Florida – After hearing the recent apology of an Argentinian bishop who asked forgiveness from all those abused by priests and religious in her country, one victim said that instead of being a comfort, the plea made her angry.
“I don’t believe anything, for me it’s a mockery,” said Valeria Zarza, a former member of Argentina’s Hermanos Discípulos de Jesús de San Juan Bautista, an order which was suppressed by the Vatican in June after numerous allegations of sexual and psychological abuse arose against the founder, Father Agustin Rosa, and other prominent members.
Speaking to Crux, Zarza said that after leaving the Hermanos, she tried “for years and years” to raise an alarm about abuses inside the congregation but was ignored by church personnel.
For the victims who’ve made canonical complaints, she said, the process was long, painful and costly, with little personal follow-up. In some cases, she said, victims have been waiting for more than a year for an update on their cases but have had no communication from the Church.
Referring to a recent apology issued by Bishop Alberto G. Bochatey, auxiliary bishop of La Plata, to survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and religious, Zarza called the apology too little, too late for those who have sought ecclesial justice unsuccessfully.
Bochatey, currently serving as commissioner for Argentina’s Catholic-run Antonio Provolo Institute, issued his apology after the institute made headlines when several church personnel were accused of abusing dozens of deaf children.
On Monday, a three-judge panel in the city of Mendoza found Father Nicola Corradi and Father Horacio Corbacho guilty of sexual abuse at the institute, sentencing them to 42 and 45 years in prison, respectively.
In his statement issued Nov. 27, Bochatey said it’s imperative that the Catholic Church “recognize and condemn with pain and shame the atrocities committed by consecrated persons, clergy and even those who had the mission of watching over and caring for the most vulnerable.”
“We ask forgiveness for our own and others’ sins,” he said, adding that awareness “helps us to recognize the mistakes, crimes and wounds generated in the past and allows us to open up and commit ourselves more to the present in a path of renewed conversion.”
In her comments to Crux, Zarza said she was unable to accept the apology, arguing that “It’s really easy to ask for forgiveness very quickly when there is a scandal.”
“So, I don’t believe them, because one asks for forgiveness when they really didn’t know” what was going on, which she said wasn’t the case. Zarza insisted that she and many other victims have “passed through the Church, and shared with them and have heard them and seen their way of acting” in other, less public cases.
Calling the apology “a popular strategy to calm people and the faithful,” Zarza accused Bochatey of fabricating a false sense of pain and solidarity for victims and for the abuse that happened, “when in reality they’ve known for years and have done absolutely nothing.”
Zarza is one of three people who currently have civil cases against Rosa and another prominent member of the Hermanos, Nicolas Parma, for alleged sexual assault. Both Rosa and Parma were charged on multiple counts of alleged sexual assault and rape of minors in 2016.
Earlier this month, Zarza was absolved of allegations of sexually abusing a young girl, now an adult, while teaching at a children’s school when she was still in community. The woman who accused her is the niece of one of the priests who formed part of the Hermanos, and the allegation arose only after she filed her case against Rosa.
Zarza’s case went to trial Nov. 1 and was dropped by the presiding judge on Nov. 12, on grounds that the city prosecutor in Salta, where the trial was taking place, had expressed doubts about the validity of the accusation based on the results of a psychological exam, which found the alleged victim’s testimony dubious and which concluded that Zarza did not fit the profile of an abuser.
Her case against Rosa has yet to go to trial, as a judge has yet to be assigned to the case.
At the end of what has been “an extremely tiring” month, Zarza said she feels a sense “of strength and empowerment that I cannot explain,” but has found it hard to celebrate her victory. Instead of feeling relieved, Zarza said she felt angry, embarrassed and exhausted by everything she has endured since leaving the community in 2015.
Likewise, she said she is also angered by the recent apology.
“They could have avoided thousands and thousands of victims throughout the world, and they can continue avoiding thousands and thousands of victims in the Church by acting fast,” she said, but added that lamentably, this rarely happens.
In an interview with Argentine broadcaster Radio La Red, Bishop Sergio Buenanueva, head of the bishops’ council for the protection of minors, appeared to sympathize with Zarza’s anger.
Referring to the condemnation of Corradi and Corbacho in the Provolo case, Buenanueva said that for the moment, the Church must “keep quiet and endure what they tell us.”
Calling the Provolo case a turning point in Argentina and one of the worst abuse cases the country has seen, Buenanueva said an adviser is currently revising the canonical process for handling cases of the abuse of minors, insisting that the attitude of the Christian community, priests and bishops must be “to listen to and believe victims.”
“Right now, we must stay quiet, listen and put up with everything they say to us, because the mess is too big,” he said.
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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