Argentine nuns on trial over deaf children sexual abuse

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Two nuns and seven other female employees of an Argentine institute for deaf children were on trial Monday in a sexual assault case that shocked Pope Francis' home country.

In November 2019, two priests in charge of children at the center were sentenced to more than 40 years in prison each for sexual assault, including rape, of approximately 20 minors.

This is the second trial in the event, which takes place at the Provolo Institute in Mendoza, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) west of Buenos Aires.

At the time, the victims ranged in age from four to seventeen.

Since accusations of violence first emerged in 2016, several members of the school's faculty were arrested, and the institute was closed down.

The first to stand trial were Argentine priest Horacio Corbacho, who was sentenced to 45 years in prison, and Italian Nicola Corradi, who was sentenced to 42 years in prison.

Armando Gomez, the institution's gardener, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for sexual assault, and a former altar boy, now in his 50s, was sentenced to ten years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing five children.

This time, the main accused is Japanese nun Kumiko Kosaka, 46, who is accused of aggravated sexual assault and covering up the crimes.

Along with the center's legal officer, a psychologist, a chef, and four institute directors, another nun, Paraguayan Asuncion Martinez, 53, is accused of "abuse of minors" and concealing the crimes.

"Without the nuns who were in charge of the children, the social worker, the directors, without all that structure none of this would have been possible. 

Corbacho and Corradi were not alone," said Erica Labeguerie, sister of Claudia, a victim of the center.

Ariel Lizarraga, the father of another victim, 29-year-old Daiana, said: "They covered up everything, preventing them (the children) from learning sign language so that it would not come out."

The trial began in Mendoza without any journalists present, despite the coronavirus outbreak.

According to judicial reports, none of the defendants were present in court but participated through a video transmission.

Kosaka is the only one in pre-trial custody who is under house arrest.

The trial is scheduled to last six months, with about 100 witnesses expected to testify.

"The families are expectant," said Labeguerie. "It is as if a door was opened that enables many memories, an infinite sadness because nothing is going to give us back everything that was stolen from us."

The Provolo Institute, established in 1995, provided free education to children of low-income families who had hearing and speech disabilities, as well as on-site boarding during the school week.

In recent years, the Catholic Church has been rocked by a slew of child sex abuse scandals in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Australia.

COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF BA TIMES 

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