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Archbishop Found Guilty of Abusing Cloistered Nuns in Pope Francis' Native Argentina

Updated: May 17

An archbishop and other high-ranking clergy have been found guilty of abusing 20 cloistered nuns in Pope Francis’ homeland of Argentina. That's the finding of a judge presiding over the Family and Gender Violence Court in the provincial capital of Salta.


In an 87-page ruling, Judge Carolina Cáceres Moreno ordered Mgr. Mario Antonio Cargnello, archbishop of Salta, and other accused clergy, to undergo six months of psychological treatment and training in gender violence for the harassment carried out over two decades.

Two Decades of Violence

“I conclude and affirm that the nuns have suffered acts of gender violence religiously, physically, psychologically and economically for more than 20 years,” Judge Cáceres said in the ruling.


The judge further ordered the pontifical delegate, Fr. Javier Belda Iniesta, to notify Pope Francis of her decision.


The court delivered its verdict on Friday, a couple of days before the Vatican published its controversial declaration titled Dignita Infinita (Infinite Dignity), in which it denounced “violence against women” as one of “the grave violations against human dignity.”


The nuns, who belong to the San Bernardo Convent of Discalced Carmelites, filed a judicial complaint against Abp. Cargnello, Bp. Martín de Elizalde, judicial vicar Fr. Ignacio de Loyola Pinto y de Sancristóval and Fr. Lucio Ajalla in April 2022, issuing a “desperate cry for help.”

COVID Abuse 

The sisters accused Cargnello of physical abuse, as well as psychological and economic violence against them, including grabbing, slapping, shaking the sisters and squeezing the lips of a nun to silence her. The sisters also claim the archbishop borrowed $9000 from them without repayment.


In a twist in the case, the Vatican had earlier sent Bp. Elizalde as a representative to look into the complaints by the nuns, but the bishop has become a defendant in the case himself. He is accused of consenting to the abuse, but not actually carrying it out.


The court analyzed five episodes of abuse reported by the Carmelites, highlighting an incident on September 25, 2020, which occurred when a sister died during the coronavirus pandemic.


On the same day, the archbishop and Fr. Ajalla insisted on a meeting with the nuns, during which Cargnello accused the nuns of endangering the lives of workers who were carrying out maintenance work on the convent and insulted them with words like "liar, demonic, traitor."


Evidence on Film

The prioress asked a sister to film the conversation so that the Carmelite community could hear what the archbishop was going to communicate to them. However, Fr. Lucio Ajalla forcibly snatched the camera from the sister with the intention of erasing the recording.


The prioress managed to recover the camera, but the archbishop and Fr. Ajalla aggressively pounced on her to confiscate it. Both hit her on the arm in an attempt to take it away, and they took it without permission, the nuns testified. 


The nuns highlighted the seriousness of the incident, providing recordings and audio as evidence to support their complaint.


"From listening to it, repeated questions emerge regarding the prioress's actions, discrediting and accusatory phrases, which violate her psychological and emotional person without taking into account that, minutes before, one of the sisters of the monastery had died,” Judge Cáceres observed.


Later, during the wake held for the deceased sister, Cargnello accused the prioress of omission and negligence, blaming her for the death of the nun who had died from the coronavirus. The archbishop claimed that the nun had been infected by the workers during the renovation of the convent.


Archbishop Obstructs Prioress Election

In 2011, Cargnello attempted to prevent the election of a new prioress to obstruct the nuns from signing new contracts for their rental properties, which is the only means of support for the sisters.


On April 7, 2022, Cargnello and Fr. Loyola Pinto y de Sancristóval demanded the presence of one of the nuns at the diocesan office. "They say that the injunction to leave the monastery shows an unnecessary act that breaks the closure, in a space without any protection."


The psychological report on Cargnello stated:


He presents indicators of rigid, structured thinking, therefore, in situations and/or events that differ from his ideology or what he expects, he could react with anger or irritability, triggering bullying behaviors or, failing that, omission of his responsibilities, which would leave the complainants in a place of vulnerability."


Eduardo Romani, a counsel for the archbishop, has denied all accusations against his client and insists there is more to the story than meets the eye.


Feminists Support Sisters

Attorney José Viola, representing the nuns, hailed the verdict as a bold departure from conventional norms, especially given Salta’s ecclesiastical stronghold. Viola told Professional FM:


In the Catholic Church, this was a taboo topic, much like sexual abuse, and now it brings it to the forefront. This piece changes the legal history of the entire world; it is unprecedented and breaks a status quo, as it pertains to a person of great power.


Feminist groups rallied earlier in support of the nuns. “In the feminist struggle, it is historic for a bishop and other religious leaders to be warned in this way by the courts,” remarked Tania Kiriaco, legal adviser to the Gema, Gender and Masculinities Foundation.


Pope Francis’ Dignita Infinita called violence against women “a global scandal that is gaining increasing recognition,” noting that “even in the most developed and democratic countries, the concrete social reality testifies to the fact that women are often not accorded the same dignity as men.”


In March 2022, an Argentinian court sentenced Mgr. Gustavo Zanchetta, bishop of Orán in Salta and a close friend of Pope Francis, to four years in prison for sexually abusing of two former seminarians.

Dr. Jules Gomes, (BA, BD, MTh, PhD), has a doctorate in biblical studies from the University of Cambridge. Currently a Vatican-accredited journalist based in Rome, he is the author of five books and several academic articles. Gomes lectured at Catholic and Protestant seminaries and universities and was canon theologian and artistic director at Liverpool Cathedral.

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1 Comment

'Four years in prison'???

How's defrocking this man with no chance of reinstatement sound???

In this case NO GOOD OLD BOY BUDDY shenanigans!!!


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