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Argentine bishop, clergy found liable for gender-based violence, discrimination against nuns

Pope Francis attends the recitation of midday prayer in the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Sept. 7, 2019. An Argentine judge ruled April 4, 2024, in favor of Discalced Carmelite nuns at a convent in Salta, Argentina, saying that two bishops and two priests were liable for gender-based discrimination and violence toward the nuns. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME (OSV News)– A judge in Argentina ruled that two bishops and two priests were liable for gender-based discrimination and violence toward a group of Discalced Carmelite nuns.

Argentine Judge Carolina Cáceres Moreno issued an 87-page ruling April 4 that said the cloistered nuns of the Monastery of St. Bernard in Salta were subjected to psychological, verbal and physical abuse by Archbishop Mario Cargnello of Salta, retired Bishop Martín de Elizalde of Nueve de Julio, Father Ignacio Loyola Pinto de Sancristóval and Father Lucio Ajaya.

“I conclude and affirm that the Carmelites have suffered acts of gender violence in the institutional sphere of the religious, physical, psychological and economic type for a period of more than 20 years,” the judge said in her ruling, according to the Argentine newspaper La Nación.

The judge ordered the four accused clergymen to undergo psychological treatment and training “in order to modify their behavioral patterns.”

Pope Francis also must be notified of the court’s decision, Judge Cáceres said.

Lawyers representing the Archdiocese of Salta said they would appeal the decision and said the accusations were baseless. The lawyers noted that the case has no merit given the fact that “judge has repeatedly sent the case to the criminal prosecutor, who refused” to pursue the case.

The complaint filed by the nuns stated that they had endured “sustained harassment over time that began in 1999,” the year Archbishop Cargnello was appointed to lead the archdiocese.

Tensions between the Archdiocese of Salta and the cloistered nuns stem from the latter’s devotion and support of alleged apparitions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, dubbed by devotees as “La Virgen del Cerro” (“The Virgin of the Hill”) in Salta.

Among the allegations included in the civil suit, the nuns claimed that following the wake of a fellow nun in September 2020, they were subjected to physical and psychological gender-based violence by Archbishop Cargnello and Father Ajaya, a priest who served at the archdiocesan cathedral.

According to the nuns, the two clergymen struggled to take a camera from one of the nuns who was recording the confrontation. Video and audio recordings of the incident were submitted to the Argentine court.

In 2022, following a request made by Archbishop Cargnello, the Vatican appointed Bishop Elizalde to conduct an apostolic visitation of the monastery.

In a statement published in April of that year, the archdiocese said the Vatican offered a set of instructions regarding the monastery’s administrative management as well as affirming that it was subject to obedience to the archbishop.

It also determined that the convent’s support of the alleged apparitions in Salta, including allowing the so-called visionary, Maria Livia Galiano, to live at the monastery property “went against the will of the local church.”

However, not long after the archdiocese made the announcement, the nuns filed their complaint. The nuns included Bishop Elizalde in their civil suit, accusing him of verbal and psychological abuse during his apostolic visitation of the monastery.

Furthermore, the civil suit claimed, the visit by the archdiocesan judicial vicar, Father Loyola Pinto de Sancristóval’s in April 2022 to inform the nuns of the Vatican’s decision was unnecessary and, thus, constituted an act of “psychological gender-based violence.”

In a statement to Argentine radio station Cadena 3, Eduardo Romani, Archbishop Cargnello’s lawyer, said the case is still open and that Judge Cáceres’ ruling was not a “conviction against the bishop and against any of those involved.”

“The court has already said that there was no crime related to violence. In the next few days, an appeal will be filed against the resolution which we understand to be totally inadequate and contrary to law,” Romani said.

“The ruling in the homeland of Pope Francis cast a spotlight on the long-standing abuse of nuns by priests and bishops in the Catholic Church,” Global Sister Report said.

Though long overshadowed by other church scandals, GSR wrote, such abuses in religious life are increasingly being aired and denounced as a result of nuns feeling emboldened by the #MeToo movement, which has a corollary in the church, #NunsToo.

Junno Arocho Esteves writes for OSV News from Rome.

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