The case of the priest Julio Grassi shook Argentine society 20 years ago. At that time, the lawyer Juan Pablo Gallego was just over 30 years old when he became involved in the defense of two minors who accused the priest of sexual abuse. “Grassi was one of the three or four most important, most influential and most popular people in the Argentine Republic, not only in the Church, but in the country. If there was a dinner with ten guests organized by a President of the Nation, no matter what sign it was, Grassi was part of that meeting”, says Gallego two decades after the case broke out thanks to a journalistic investigation in 2002.
Victims of abuse ask for justice before some bishops who do not say if they will collaborate with the investigation
After a parallel media trial, a legal proceeding in which Grassi had the "30 most important law firms in Argentina" and a tortuous investigation during which some of the witnesses were shot and one of the complainants was kidnapped and threatened, According to Gallego, justice condemned in 2009 the priest to 15 years in prison for sexual abuse and corruption of minors.
The investigation of the case and the sentence coincided with the rise of Jorge Bergoglio in the Argentine ecclesiastical hierarchy. Even so, and with the knowledge that the Pope has of the case, today “Grassi is still a priest and he has not been sanctioned ”, explains the lawyer who defended the minors.
Bergoglio, in the Argentine ecclesiastical hierarchy
All these factors, together with Gallego's experience in investigating cases of pederasty in the Church, have contributed to Javier Cremades' office, who leads the audit commissioned by the Episcopal Conference, has the Argentine lawyer for the commission made by the bishops. The firm has been working on this mission since February and he is one year old to dedicate himself to the task received. The objective of this commission is to carry out "an analysis scheme to determine the amount of victimization" that pederasty has generated to those affected. Gallego will be in charge of the "systematization in the evaluation of victims".
Cremades has a group of international experts with prior experience in the field. Among them, this project has been joined by the coordinator of the pedophilia commission in the Portuguese Church, Pedro Strecht, and the partners of the German law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) – who concluded that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVIdid not act in four cases of sexual abuse while he was Archbishop of Munich – the lawyers Martin Pusch and Ulrich Wastl.
Despite having these profiles, several groups of victims have announced that they distance themselves from the audit promoted by the bishops, among them, Stolen Childhood, the Associations of Victims of Pederasty in the Navarra Church and the Zero Tolerance Platform. After three and a half months of work, the office has received less than 60 complaints and only half of them are cases linked to Catholic institutions, as explained on Monday by the coordinator of these works, Alfredo Dagnino.
The Argentine Church has not investigated pederasty
Analyzing the actions of the Argentine Church 20 years after the Grassi case broke out, Gallego avoids being critical of the actions of the Spanish Episcopal Conference. "What the Spanish Church decides today seems brave to me," says the Argentine lawyer, who explains that the Argentine bishops have not initiated any investigation into cases of pederasty in their institutions.
In addition, Gallego questions the work of the Argentine Catholic institution in the face of the future release of the priest convicted of pederasty, something that will happen in 2026 at the latest. "Grassi's situation in relation to the Church is quite strange," he highlights. The priest, in fact, continues to practice and celebrate masses in prison, according to what he published a year ago eldiarioAR.
Twenty years after facing this case for the first time, Gallego acknowledges that today this matter "does not lack any seasoning" to become a non-fiction series for any online platform of audiovisual content. During the months in which the judicial investigation took place, he was watched. “Grassi hired [a una persona] to follow me 24 hours and interfere with all my communications”, indicates the Argentine lawyer.
Not only for fear of his safety, but also for fear that one of the complainants would be killed during the procedure, Gallego requested an interview with the politician who at that time was in charge of the Argentine Presidency, Néstor Kirchner; he also requested to speak with Grassi's hierarchical superior and the Cardinal Primate of Argentina, Justo Laguna and Jorge Bergoglio.
In the meeting he had with the superior of Grassi, he realized that Monsignor Laguna was aware of the actions of the priest convicted of sexual abuse of minors. “[En ese momento] He tells me that, of course, that he abuses minors and that he is a mobster, ”says the lawyer. Little by little, investigating the case, he was identifying the connections with the power that the condemned priest had woven for years. A large part of this network was masked by the allegedly philanthropic actions of the Felices Los Niños organization, led by Grassi, through which it cared for minors living on the street.
This case has haunted Bergoglio already in the Vatican. "The Pope's response is always blunt: maximum respect for civil justice, zero tolerance for the guilty and absolute support for the victims," said the Pope. papal press department El País asked about this matter.
The meeting that Gallego had with Bergoglio in 2005, which coincided with the latter's return to Buenos Aires after the appointment of Benedict XVI in Rome, the Argentine cardinal told him that the "Archbishopric was at his disposal" and he was sending emissaries to know how the case progressed Years later, the lawyer maintains equidistance with the actions of the current Pope. “So what can I say? Did Cardinal Bergoglio interfere with me? No, did he favor Me? I can't say either,” he concludes.
Parallel to the outbreak of the Grassi case, journalists from The Boston Globe conducted an investigation that ended up implicating hundreds of priests. This story was collected in the movie Spotlight. Gallego says he has worked with Anne Barrett, who heads the Boston victims' association. Attention to those affected in these cases is essential and the lawyer is aware that this matter should be prioritized in the Spanish audit. “Being heard changes life”, highlights the lawyer about the importance that reparation and listening have for the victims.