June 21, 2021

The Salesians ignored accusations of a missionary in Benin for three years | Society

The Salesians ignored accusations of a missionary in Benin for three years | Society

The Spanish Salesians ignored for three years the first accusations against their missionary Juan José Gómez, denounced for abuses of minors in their center for street children in Benin, as reported by EL PAÍS. Two volunteers who had worked there with a Salesian NGO presented a harsh report in 2013 in which they pointed out that the children suffered physical abuse, they received food in bad conditions, the older ones sexually abused the youngest children and they all lived in an environment of constant violence. In the dossier, Gómez is accused of running virtually a "mafia network" that served to control everything that happened around him. But the order did nothing. Spokesmen for the Salesians justify that "the report does not appear" and affirm that they have not known or received it.

The accusations were not there. In 2015 another five volunteers returned to warn of what was happening and finally filed a complaint at the National Court which counted at least a dozen victims – this newspaper has reported two more – and in which appeared testimonies of those affected, witnesses and educators. Affirm that Gomez's abuses were a thing known to many people in Porto Novo, the city where the center was. His activity was enormous and he cared for thousands of minors: in 2012, he specified the volunteers' report, worked with 2,120 children, of whom 305 were housed in centers and facilities. But, after the denunciation, the Salesians did not act either. Moreover, they allowed the accused, who at that time was in Spain, to return to Benin.

The headquarters of the order in Spain ensures that the first news it had about these accusations was in April 2016, when five victims contacted a Spanish Salesian Superior, José Miguel Núñez, directly. And that as a result of that they later learned, in October, about the process opened in the National Court. They allege that it was the Salesian Province of Western Francophone Africa – the order is divided into administrative areas that are called provinces – which took the case and did not inform them, despite the fact that Gómez is Spanish. However, they hid this newspaper a month ago that there was a case against him, and they also explained that they had filed a "verbal" complaint at the Hearing. In 2016, with the testimony of these five victims, a canonical investigation was opened, which culminated in April 2018 in a process in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Vatican, still open.

The two volunteers who wrote the first report in 2013, who prefer anonymity, report that they delivered it to the Benin reception center and to those responsible in Madrid for the volunteer work of the Don Bosco Foyer Don Bosco NGO in Porto Novo. Regardless of the accusations, the report was very critical of the work and results of the program of the Salesians in Benin. They affirm that they also tried to get in touch with the then Salesian provincial of the area, Faustino García Peña -known as Faus-, but they did not get in touch with him. "They told us they were going to evaluate the project and change the way we work with them, but as far as we know, nothing changed," says one of the donors to this newspaper. One of the volunteers who denounced in 2015 also refers to this person in charge: "Some of my colleagues went to talk with Faus to tell them what was happening and he said: 'You have taken the path of justice. I no longer have anything to talk about with you. "

During their stay, these collaborators heard rumors that Gomez used to take minors to his room to "give him massages in exchange for money." Despite assuring that they witnessed some fact that confirmed their suspicions, they did not report it to the court "because they did not have sufficient physical evidence". "Juanjo's room was in the building where the children slept and at night there was no supervision. We saw him leave his room one day accompanied by a young boy, about 15 years old, who was drying his arms with a towel, as if he had just taken a shower, "says one of the two volunteers.

Food with insects

The investigation indicates that Gómez was the only one who managed the resources, without informing the management team, that he did not know where the money was destined for some of the items of the projects of public organisms. "Educators who passed on information received bonuses, according to other workers," says the same volunteer. Another of the alarming points of the document refers to the physical and psychological punishment of educators towards minors, including those who had some type of disability. The research also details how children, on occasion, had to eat food "contaminated by insects", despite having enough food in the stores.

Spokespersons for the Salesians in Spain say that "this report does not appear". "If so, if they delivered it and nothing was done, it is certainly not the way of the congregation," they say. Nor do they know anything about a complaint from other aid workers in Benin that same year, according to one of the victims, Patrick Yehouenou, in EL PAÍS. They point out that the first news of problems in Benin came to them in April and May of 2016 with the calls and messages from five victims to Núñez, superior of the order. One of them, Yehouenou.

They explain that Gómez, denounced in November 2015, then informed his superior in Benin, his province of reference in the congregation, and not that of Spain. That's why, they justify, they did not know anything about the case. It was in the African country, the order sustains, that measures were taken in November 2015: a canonical process and a complaint before the courts of Benin. But both ended in nothing. The justice of this country filed the case in March 2016 – although the victims claim they received money or threats – and the internal investigation was closed in June with the same result. The instructors felt that the accusations were unfounded.

The order in Spain, which insists on the defendant's presumption of innocence, affirms that they have not known anything about threats or payments to the victims in Benin for their silence.

If you know of any case of sexual abuse that has not seen the light, write us with your complaint to abusos@elpais.es

Waiting for a sentence

After knowing the rumors of pedophilia in one of his trips, the volunteer Pedro Martínez (not his real name) began to interview witnesses, victims and educators of the center in Benin. Finally, he denounced Juan José Gómez before the National Court.

Martínez went to the African country with a cooperation plan of the Diputación de Huelva and the Salesians. When he learned the facts, he informed the project technicians. The County Council explains that it reported the accusations to the Office of the Children's Prosecutor, but as it was a crime committed outside of Spain against non-Spaniards, the competence corresponded to the National Court and the complaint had to be filed by the volunteer, not by the Provincial Council. According to sources of the Hearing, the denunciation was sent to Interpol and to a court of guard of Madrid.

After filing the complaint, the complainant learned that Gomez was still in Benin, so the volunteers visited the head of the Salesians in the area to give them an explanation. "My companions went to talk to Faus (then provincial chief) and he told them: 'You have taken the path of justice. I no longer have anything to talk about with you, "he says. Then they wrote a letter to the Rector Major of the Salesians in Rome in 2016.

Shortly after, Gómez was transferred to Spain, where he currently resides pending the canonical and judicial sentence. "Shortly after sending the letter, they also moved Faus to another area of ​​Africa," says Martinez.

The case is still open in the central court number four of the National Court. Gómez is still imputed, he was interrogated and he has never been arrested. The judge has banned him from leaving Spain, although he keeps his passport, according to his lawyer, Esther Arabaolaza. "We must remember that the case was filed in Benin," says the lawyer, who adds that they have presented documents at the trial in which the innocence of her client is proven.

The group of volunteers explains that "all this is done for the children" and that they do not want the project to be affected.


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