Sunday, January 29, 2023

Argentina: Nuns condemn archbishop and priests for violence

BUENOS AIRES ( Associated Press) — Life for the Discalced Carmelite nuns at the San Bernardo convent in northern Argentina seems to go on peacefully between their incessant prayer, garden work, manual labor and sporadic contact with relatives through bars.

But this was not the peace one imagines within the walls of the grand colonial construction. This is evident from the complaint filed by 18 Carmelites living there against the Archbishop of Salta, Mario Antonio Carganello, and two other religious for alleged physical and psychological violence that triggered the earthquake in that city, some 1,400 km from Buenos Aires. Have done , one of the most Catholic in Argentina.

The nuns’ complaint is an unprecedented event that has also brought something surprising: The court summoned Carganello and two other priests – Vatican envoy Martín de Elizalde and assistant at the Salta cathedral Lucio Ajala – to present their case on Tuesday. of allegations.

The hearing was convened by a family and gender violence court in Salta on 12 April following a religious condemnation by the Carmelites. The court issued safeguards for women within the framework of national and provincial laws and the “public emergency in social matters due to sexual violence” which governs the province of Salta. He ordered the priests to “refrain from committing acts of violence” and to approach the convent guarded by the police.

However, a day before the scheduled date, the hearing was suspended after the archbishop’s defense presented a note stating that Carganello would attend the deliberations of the Argentine Episcopal Conference near Buenos Aires, in the parish of Salta. Judiciary reported. He also appealed before a court from a resolution of the judge who had declared that the case was competent, rather than general justice.

Of the other two defendants, their status is not officially known as they did not represent lawyers.

The archbishop’s lawyer, Eduardo Romani, has denied that the prelate abused the nuns and said that “we await an investigation into the real background of this story, which may be economic.” In this sense, he told The Associated Press a week ago that we must pay attention to a layman who is managing Carmelite properties.

“For the Church, nuns are a source of pride, we do not want them to be used. We do not see this as a confrontation,” the lawyer said. Shortly afterwards, the courts ordered the parties’ lawyers not to make any more press statements.

The matter reached the Vatican. Several months prior to the filing of the complaint, the nuns had presented their complaints to the Holy See about the archbishop’s alleged repeated abuses. The Holy See appointed Elizalde to listen to her and evaluate her management of the convent, but ended with theological accusations.

The Carmelites’ stance has put feminist groups on a war footing in a country that is at the forefront of defending women’s rights in Latin America, and in turn, civil and religious groups, such as the Presbytery of Salta, have rallied in defense has gone. Condemned

“It is historic in the feminist struggle that a bishop and other religious are treated in this way by justice,” Tania Kiriaço, legal advisor to Gema of the Genero y Masculinidades Foundation, told The Associated Press.

Under the slogan “Sister, I believe in you” and despite the suspension of judicial hearings, the group called for a symbolic embrace of the convent on Tuesday with about twenty groups. Argentine feminists, who have generally spoken out against Catholicism, were shocked by the move by nuns in a conservative province that has been the scene of frequent cases of gender violence.

“What they did approximates the breaking of an abuse order by a religious superior. They know they have rights,” Kiriakou said.

The attitude of the nuns supported interviews by the Associated Press among Salta residents.

“I want the law to apply to him like anyone else… If he is found guilty, he should go to jail,” he said. It has surprised everyone, that the nuns have been encouraged to denounce, the bishop no less”, said Enzo di Gianantonio.

Annabel Alfarano affirms that “women are not staying silent more and more in the North, where speaking up means shame and they point at you.”

The judge sought to determine what further steps all parties should take, which could include criminal action, based on the arguments presented by the defendants during the hearing and the psychological reports. It is unknown whether a magistrate will set a new date.

Led by the convent’s highest official, Prioress María Fátima del Espiritu Santo, the nuns decided to take action because they could no longer tolerate the abuse, their defenders ordered the parties to remain silent before the Associated Press court.

Lawyer Claudia Zerda Lamas said, “Closing does not insulate them from the knowledge of pain … They feel humiliated by their status as women, they exercise their rights and make desperate requests for help.” does.”

He said the nuns have felt constant fear for many years “due to the possibility of losing Carmelite status and other perceived threats”.

The episode that formalized the complaint occurred during a nun’s wake in October 2020 at the convent.

According to the Carmelites, Carganello reacted very poorly to the coffin because an image of the so-called Virgen del Cerro had been installed nearby, which was very popular in Salta, when a woman in her 90s said that she and her had appeared. which the archbishop does not recognize, causing tension with the nuns for some time.

However, their defenders point out, in 1997 the previous archbishop authorized the Carmelites to disseminate messages of the Virgin to visitors to the convent, which draws thousands of people to the sanctuary each week, noting that they were Catholics. Wasn’t against faith.

Cargello may have given an offensive speech to the nuns “with various kinds of threats”, said Zerda Lamas and her colleague José Viola.

The moment of physical violence may have occurred when, at the request of the prioress, a sister filmed the moment of the wake, which was witnessed by priest Ajalla, who accompanied the archbishop “like a bodyguard” and who “attacked the nun” with the camera. To go.” After that, Priores retrieved the machine from Ajalla, causing him to hit one hand and the archbishop on the other to drop the camera.

The complaint was accompanied by visual and audio material, including alleged assaults that had taken place on other occasions.

The nuns also questioned whether Carganello keeps the renewal of the prioress’s position, whose mandate expired in February, blocked, which would cause problems in administering the monastery with consequent economic losses.

It is not the first time that Salta is the protagonist of a scandal affecting religious people. The latest was Bishop Emeritus Gustavo Zanchetta’s prison sentence of more than four years in March for sexually abusing two seminarians.

Meanwhile, in 2021 Agustín Rosa Torino lost his clerical status after being sentenced by the local justice to 12 years in prison for abusing two novices and a nun.


Associated Press reporter Natacha Pisarenko contributed to this story.

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