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Argentine priest sentenced to 17 years for abuse of minors

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ROME – Just two months after the founder of his order was given a 12-year jail sentence and defrocked for sexually abusing minors, Argentine Father Nicolas Parma Wednesday was sentenced to 17 years in prison on the same charges.

Formerly a member of Argentina’s Hermanos Discípulos de Jesús de San Juan Bautista, or “Brother Disciples of Jesus of St. John the Baptist,” Parma was accused by multiple people of sexual abuse in 2016 alongside the order’s founder, ex-priest Augustin Rosa.

Known in Argentina as “the Brown Brothers” because of the brown habits community members wore, the congregation began as a small group holding meetings in Lujan in the 1980s, but it grew rapidly and the community was formally established by Rosa in Salta in 1996, with a women’s community coming shortly after.

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Members lived a contemplative prayer life, but also performed apostolic activities outside monastery walls, such as theatre shows and small groups at youth centers, public novenas and rosaries, and door-to-door evangelization.

The Vatican opened an investigation into the community in 2015 after several former members alleging sexual abuse and rape came forward with both civil and canonical complaints. The order was formally suppressed in June 2019.

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Rosa specifically was accused of sexually assaulting a member of the women’s community, who has since left, and with the grooming and groping of several adolescent boys hoping to join the community in an alleged “medical check” for STDs.

Parma, who was known in the community as a violent man who doled out harsh punishments for small transgressions, was accused of sexually abusing several minor boys who lived in the community house in Santa Cruz where he was superior, inviting them to sleep with him in his bed while he was naked, and offering them games on iPads in exchange for sexual favors.

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Rosa and Parma were both charged with sexual abuse in Salta 2016 after several victims came forward. Two years later, in 2018, Parma’s case was transferred to Santa Cruz since the abuse happened at a property the community owned there, and where Parma served as superior.

On July 8, after a lengthy trial which he spent mostly under house arrest rather than in jail, Rosa was charged with the sexual abuse of three minors and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

A month later he was defrocked by the Vatican, which in August issued a decree for his dismissal from the clerical state.

When Parma’s trial concluded earlier this month, prosecutors in Puerta Santa Cruz asked that he be sentenced to 20 years behind bars.

On Wednesday, he was sentenced 17 years in prison for the sexual abuse of two minors, with the court finding Parma guilty of “sexual abuse doubly aggravated by having been committed by a minister of worship, in charge of the education and guidance of a minor cohabitant.”

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Although the sentencing of Rosa and Parma was a long time in coming, it was welcome and relieving news for their victims, who have spent years jumping through legal hurdles and reliving the events of the past in an attempt to get justice.

Speaking to Crux, Valeria Zarza, a former member of the women’s branch of the community and one of Rosa’s victims, said she’s hardly had time to process the sentencing, because “everything happened very fast recently.”

“You don’t know the peace and tranquility that I have,” she said, noting that while Rosa was free, “there wasn’t a place in the world where I felt safe.”

“Now I feel like I can walk alone until dark in the middle of Buenos Aires and nothing will happen to me,” Zarza said, adding that for the first time in a long time, she feels like she can move forward.

Parma, who has been stripped of his habit, is still a priest for the time being; however, it is widely believed that, like Rosa, the order for his defrocking won’t be long in coming.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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