Details are emerging of long-standing sex abuse at a school for deaf children run by the Roman Catholic Church in the Argentinean city of Mendoza. The revelations come after the arrest on May 5 of a nun at the school, Kumiko Kosaka, on suspicion of helping priests sexually abuse children at the Antonio Provolo Institute, authorities said. She was also charged with physically abusing the students to identify the most submissive ones.
Kosaka’s arrest stems from a sex abuse scandal that has roiled the Catholic Church from Argentina to Rome, and has resulted in Vatican probes and the arrests of two priests and three other men following the closure of the center in December.
In the wake of the arrests, which include the 82-year-old director of the center, Nicolás Corradi, around 20 people have come forward to report abuse they suffered at the school. The case has been widely reported on Argentinean television. One teenage girl was reportedly chained up in a small room known as “God’s little house” and abused by up to four people at a time. When police searched the school they found chains and pornographic material.
Kumiko Kosaka would beat the children to test them. The submissive ones would be abused Sergio Salinas, victim’s lawyer
The prosecutor overseeing the case, Gustavo Stroppiana, told journalists: “Going up the stairs on an inspection, a victim pointed to an image of the Virgin Mary and told us: ‘Whenever we passed by here, the bad nun crossed herself.’ How could she be so hypocritical?”
“Several witnesses’ stories match up. First, Kumiko Kosaka would beat the children to test them. Those who resisted would be saved. The submissive ones would end up being abused,” explains Sergio Salinas, a lawyer representing several victims and who has been the driving force behind the investigation.
One girl, then five years of age, was repeatedly raped by Horacio Corbacho, one of the arrested priests. “The nun took her to the priest’s room, knowing what she was doing, and one day put a nappy on the girl to hide her bleeding, so that she could eat in the dining room. She was hurting so much she couldn’t sit down. She made them watch pornography, made the girls touch themselves. They were children from very poor families who hardly saw their parents because they were boarders. Also, those who were selected had the greatest difficulty in communicating with their parents, they didn’t know sign language,” says Salinas.
The authorities back up the victims’ allegations. “They were threatened with being thrown out if they talked. You must remember that many of these children came from the poorest slums of the city, the center was like a five-star hotel to them. They were told that their families would have problems if they talked. After leaving, they lived in fear and shame. Some have children of their own today, and still can’t talk about what was done to them,” says Salinas, adding that many of the victims have become self-harmers.
Children as young as five were allegedly raped by priests
Cintia Martínez, the mother of a boy who was abused at the Provolo center by his carer, who in turn had been raped by one of the priests, says that her son, now 20, is still afraid to speak about what happened to him. “My son saw how they abused [his carer], who then raped him. It was a chain. Even today he is still terrified of Corradi. His story stops with him. He says he is very afraid of him.”
Martínez says she tried to report the abuse she suspected was taking place in the school as early as 2008, when she realized her son was traumatized: “He slept with the lights on, he began to feel bad about himself. He cut his own arms, his legs, he told me he didn’t want to go back in there. One day he showed me a pornographic drawing of an adult having oral sex with another. He had drawn eyes as though others were watching. He told me that they were forced to have oral sex with other students.”
She reported the matter to the school and was told not to pursue the matter further and that the person responsible would be dealt with. She took her son out of the school and contacted the authorities, but no action was taken.
“Not even the other mothers believed me. They said I was a troublemaker and that so was my son. We could have stopped it, but instead it went on until 2016. That is what hurts me.”
Some 62 priests have been reported for sexual abuse in Argentina since 2002. Only three have been expelled from the Roman Catholic Church. The rest retain their status as clergy, even in jail.
English version by Nick Lyne.