• Before he became Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was known by many for his silence regarding child sex crimes
  • Bergoglio was an avid advocate for Father Julio César Grassi who is currently serving 15 years for sex crimes against a young boy
  • Grassi was the founder of Fundacion Felices los Niños, which is where his crimes involving young boys occurred

Over the years the Catholic Church has been subject to countless child sex abuse scandals. As of last year, the Catholic Church had paid out $4 billion for sexual abuse settlements. The only thing more shocking than the money spent on payoffs is the great lengths Catholic leadership has gone in hopes of hiding abuse allegations.

Julio César Grassi And His Relationship To Pope Francis

Before he was Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was known for staying silent during child sex abuse scandals and as Cardinal and Archbishop went as far as defending convicted child-abuser Father Julio César Grassi. Bergoglio not only authorized an investigation in an attempt to flip Grassi’s conviction, but he also aimed to discredit the victims.

Grassi was a Salesian until 1991. He became a priest of the Morón diocese in 1993. He founded “Fundacion Felices los Niños” (the Happy Children Foundation). From 1993 to 2002 the foundation cared for 6,300 children across 17 homes nationwide. The foundation itself was entwined in its own scandals, namely, the foundation did not keep records of where 18 million pesos received from the government province of Buenos Aires were spent for years. After Grassi was sentenced to prison in 2014, lawyer Juan Manuel Casolati was appointed the president of the foundation until he left his post in 2017 due to administrative negligence.

Charges were filed against Grassi in November 2000 following an anonymous tip but he was not taken into custody until October 2002 after Telenoche Investiga obtained the testimony of one of his victims. The victim was 15 at the time of the incident. After testifying to prosecutor Adrian Flores, Judge Humberto Meade signed a warrant for Grassi’s arrest. The charges were two counts of abuse—compounded by Grassi’s status as a religious figure and guardian of the child—and corruption of a minor.

“Do You Want Me To Suck on You?”

The victim said he was assaulted in 1998. In one incident Grassi took the boy to his office at the foundation and asked him to sit on his lap. “I sat down. He touched my leg and inched his fingers up, and I immediately got away. He told me not to tell anyone. That what had happened was normal. That men had to get to know each other. That because I had no father he wanted to show me how life was,” the victim told Telenoche Investiga.

The victim claimed in a second incident Grassi touched his penis and asked to perform fellatio on the boy. “He touched my penis and said: ‘Do you want me to suck on you?’ I shook my head but he did it for a long time. That night I ran away.” The victim said the incidents left him psychologically scarred.

The Happy Children Foundation

Evidence also claimed to show Grassi’s relationships with young boys began as early as 1991 when he was working at the boarding house La Casita, in Paso del Rey with Father Elvio Metone. During his time there Grassi allegedly formed a relationship with a boy named Ignacio. A few other boys had claimed to have witnessed the relationship between the two. Metone would later reveal that when Happy Children Foundation opened in 1993, Grassi took Ignacio with him. It was also said there was a sliding door between Grassi’s room and the young boy’s.

Once Ignacio turned 18, Grassi moved on to a new young boy. An 11-year-old named Fernando. A student witness claimed that “Grassi took Fernando to his bedroom and lived with him there.” Meade would later say after Grassi’s foundation was searched that, “We discovered in Grassi’s bedroom a little doorway a spectacular room with sound system, television, large bed, and a designated exercise area, all of which looked like a nuptial suite.” He went on to say that is where Fernando slept. It was also reported that towards the end of 2000 a 15-year-old boy named Luciano arrived at the foundation. Luciano allegedly “became the chosen one” and would have sexual relations with Grassi.

Archbishop Gabriel Stomi

Shortly before the Grassi scandal, former Santa Fe Archbishop Edgardo Gabriel Stomi resigned from his position after allegations of abusing seminarians. Stomi was the first Argentine Archbishop to resign in the midst of a sex scandal. The Episcopal Conference—the foundation of the roughly hundred bishops around the country—denounced the allegations and referred to them as a “campaign” against the Church. The response was released through a statement from the Executive Committee, the upper echelon of the Church made up of President, Archbishop Estanislao Karlic (Archbishop of Paraná), his first and second Vice Presidents, Monsignor Eduardo Mirás (Archbishop of Rosario), and Cardinal Bergoglio (Archbishop of Buenos Aires), and its General Secretary, Monsignor Guillermo Rodríguez Melgarejo.

Grassi Claims The Backing Of Pope Francis

In 2006, Estela de Carlotto, from the Committee for the Monitoring and Application of the International Convention of the Rights of Children and Adolescents, denounced both the court and Attorney General, María del Carmen Falbo. According to Carlotto, Falbo allowed the dismissal of evidence and testimony that benefitted Grassi at the request of the defense. Carlotto also directed her frustration at the Catholic Church and Bergoglio in specific. Bergoglio was known to be close to Grassi and one of the few to meet with him at the Happy Children Foundation while the abuse was occurring. According to attorney Juan Pablo Gallego, documents that were especially damning of Grassi were dismissed by the Tribunal and Falbo.

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Grassi’s trial would not begin until August 2008 in the Criminal Court of Morón. He was charged with 17 counts of sexual abuse and corruption against three underage boys. Hundreds of witnesses testified against Grassi in the following months. Shortly into the trial, the Episcopal Conference of Argentina distanced themselves from Grassi following his claims of having the backing of Bergoglio. Before entering the court Grassi claimed to have the backing of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Then again, before his second hearing, Grassi said specifically that he had the backing of Bergoglio. Episcopal spokesperson Jorge Osterheld told DyN “It’s an affirmation that he’s making on his own.” Osterheld also said the bishops “are respectful of the law” and pointed to “the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.”

Grassi’s trial hit a slight delay after judges Luis Andueza, Daniel Gómez, and Jorge Carrera decided Pedro Kaufman from the Office of Human Rights of Buenos Aires would not be allowed in the trial. The judges insisted the court “had already resolved that the trial would take place behind closed doors with no exceptions.” Kaufman told the media, “It’s the first time we’ve been prevented from appearing in a judicial process.”

The Longest Trial In The Judicial History Of Morón

In 2009 public prosecutor Alejandro Varela called Grassi’s trial “The longest trial in the judicial history of Morón.” Varela requested Grassi spend 30 years in prison for his crimes. At the same time, one of Grassi’s three lawyers, Daniel Cavo, called for him to be acquitted. By this point in the trial, the three victims were known as Ezequiel, 19, Gabriel, 24, and Luis, 25. The three boys were 9, 13, and 17 at the time of the allegations. Varela stated the only thing that surprised him from the defense was their “aggression against one of the victims.” That victim was Gabriel. In the defense’s final plea, Gabriel was called a liar, confabulator, thief and a vagrant. Psychological examinations claimed to show that none of the boys had lied. Metone also testified that Grassi would often have nocturnal outings with the boys under his care when they worked together at the boarding house in La Casita. Grassi was removed from La Casita under Metone’s request.

“He Never Let Go Of My Hand”

In May 2009 Grassi and the Happy Children Foundation found themselves battling against the Church and Bergoglio. After irregularities were detected at the Saint Joseph Worker Home at the Happy Children Foundation, law enforcement attempted to relocate the remaining children. Months prior the auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, Horacio Astoul Benites, took legal actions to address “the seriousness of the events” occurring in that home. According to Benites, a seminarian attempted to hang himself in the adjoining school after being abused by another juvenile resident. Civil judge Myriam Rustan de Estrada approved for the children to be relocated on April 17, 2009, but staff was said to have “deliberately disobeyed” federal police.

Videos showed nuns recruited from Guatemala by Grassi instructed the children to “run all over the place,” effectively preventing officers from relocating them. Bergoglio took custody of the children until the relocation could be done properly. The Happy Children Foundation entered a habeas corpus certifying the children’s health to delay the relocation. The Criminal Court of Buenos Aires denied the habeas corpus. Following a statement released by the Bishops’ Council of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires related specifically to incidents at the Saint Joseph Worker Home, Grassi made a statement claiming Bergoglio never left his side. “He [Bergoglio] never let go of my hand, he’s at my side like always, and the written communication of the Bishops’ Commission doesn’t have anything to do with me,” Grassi said in reply to accusations that Bergoglio had turned on him.

Grassi Convicted And Sentenced To 15 Years But Remains Free

On June 9, 2009, Grassi was convicted of two counts of sexual abuse and aggravated corruption of a minor. Grassi was acquitted for the other 15 charges against him. After appealing the conviction, the court decided Grassi was able to remain a free man until his conviction held. The Office of the Bishop of Morón said they would open an ecclesial trial into Grassi to decide if he would be suspended from ministry for life if his appeal was denied. Typically the Church does not launch any of its own legal procedures while a case is still open in the courts.

Over a year after filing his appeal and remaining a free man, on September 14, 2010, the Criminal Court of Buenos Aires confirmed the 15-year-prison sentence issued by a Justice Court of Morón. Not even a week later Grassi was released again. The Criminal Court of Morón ruled that Grassi would remain free until his punishment was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Justice of Buenos Aires. Varela said the court dismissed the request for Grassi to be detained but he was prohibited from entering the Happy Children Foundation and was not allowed to meet boys alone. In the prior week, the Justice Court of Morón did not make a resolution related to Grassi being detained due to some of his ongoing appeals in higher courts. On June 28, 2011, the Criminal Appeals Court of Buenos Aires denied a second request for Grassi to be detained while waiting for the outcome of his appeals.

Studies Of The Grassi Case

Meanwhile, in 2010 Bergoglio—then-President of the Episcopal Conference of Argentina—hired a criminal law scholar, Marcelo Sancinetti, to write a book titled ‘Studies of the Grassi Case’. Gallego said the book carried “little importance.” Not only was the book written under direct influence from Bergoglio to make Grassi appear innocent, according to Gallego the book was distributed to different judges of the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires. Gallego believes the tactic was an attempt to apply pressure regarding Grassi’s pending appeal. “It is a very erudite book that indicates they are unwilling to accept any verdict of the secular state and that [they believe] the judge is the most biased since the return of democracy. The pressures that have been, and continue to be, exerted on the justice system speak to a power whose reach we can’t fully comprehend,” said Gallego.

Pope Francis

Return To Happy Children Foundation

Grassi was sentenced to house arrest in 2012 after he violated the conditions of his release by publically mentioning his victims in an interview. He had also violated his ban from entering the Happy Children Foundation. In March 2012 a court ruled Grassi would remain on house arrest but that decision would be short-lived. In June 2012, a court ruled Grassi would not have to remain on house arrest.

Adding insult to injury, a member of the Bishop’s Office made a request on behalf of Grassi. The letter was reported to have the seal of the Diocese of Morón and was addressed to the Court of Morón. The letter requested to move Grassi to a house in Hurlingham called La Blanquita. La Blanquita was a residence in the Diocese of Morón located at Gorriti 3545. The address of the Happy Children Foundation where Gassi’s crimes were committed was Gorriti 3400. Despite his two convictions of sexually abusing a young boy, Grassi had his freedom and was now moving to the same street where he committed his heinous acts. The letter requesting to move Grassi was signed by the Bishop of Morón, Monsignor Luis Eichhorn.

Grassi’s Sentence Confirmed By The Supreme Court

On September 13, 2013—four years after his conviction and 13 years after the initial complaint was filed—the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires confirmed Grassi’s 15-year sentence in prison. The decision was made by Judges Luis Genoud, Héctor Negri, Juan Carlos Hitters, and Daniel Fernando Soria. Days later the Criminal Court of Morón issued a warrant for Grassi’s arrest after a judge ruled his 15-year prison sentence would be in immediate effect. Grassi was detained in September. In December 2013, Grassi lost another appeal but still maintained his innocence.

In November 2016, Grassi was convicted of using government funding for the Happy Children Foundation to pay for his private residence. He received an additional 2-year sentence. In March 2017, the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires, in a unanimous decision, upheld the original sentence. Grassi will complete his sentence in 2026 but is eligible for conditional release in 2021.

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