Priest found guilty in one of three casesWednesday, June 10, 2009
Grassi sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of child abuse
A court in Buenos Aires sentenced Julio César Grassi to 15 years in prison on several charges of child abuse at the Felices los Niños foundation in Hurligham in the late 1990s. Grassi was also barred from heading the foundation and returning to its building unaccompanied.
Grassi was found guilty for the aggravated abuse and rape of a minor. Nevertheless, he was acquitted in two other cases. The provincial court meanwhile allowed the priest to remain free until the sentence is confirmed.
Outside the courtroom in Morón, dozens of Grassi's supporters protested the ruling and were involved in violent clashes with the police. Demonstrators also beat photographers and journalists who were covering the protest.
Organizations for children's rights applauded the ruling, which they said should be considered as an example. However, they blasted Grassi's acquittal on 15 other counts of abuse. Nora Schulman, head of the Argentine Committee for Children's Rights, said the organization will appeal the ruling, and also request that Grassi be kept under arrest "because he is a convicted pedophile, who cannot control his sexuality."
"The ruling didn't satisfy anyone, because it seemed to be the middle point between the positions of the defence and the prosecution, but it ended up being unsatisfactory to either of the parts," Schulman said. She said the three victims were "very sad" following the verdict.
Estela de Carlotto, head of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, said the decision of the court to allow Grassi to remain free pending a final sentence in the case could mean a "terrible risk" to other children. The Prosecutor in the case, Federico Nieva Woodgate, meanwhile described the 15-year sentence as "too short."
In a brief statement the priest made as he was leaving the courtroom, Grassi criticized the verdict in the case claiming "the judiciary in Argentina is embarrassing."
Minutes earlier, television anchorman Raúl Portal, a close friend of the accused, celebrated the ruling, which he described as "a great victory."
"I'm happy because the tribunal was fair. This was a great victory," he claimed, and added he was "glad that those who falsely accused Grassi did not have the pleasure to see him leaving the courts handcuffed."
The statement of the judges said Grassi had deliberately prepared the minors for the sexual abuses, "intending to change the sexual orientation of the victims." The court ruling said he must not get close to any minors, and he will not be allowed to enter the Felices Los Niños foundation unaccompanied.
The charges were aggravated, as he was the person responsible for the welfare of the victims. They were particularly vulnerable as were living in the streets before arriving at the priest's foundation.
The children were aged nine, 13 and 17 years old when they were allegedly molested in different occasions by the priest at the building of the foundation Hurlingham, Greater Buenos Aires and other places.
In the final hours before the verdict, Grassi was spending the day at a "spiritual retreat" and he said he was confident the court would rule in his favour.
The priest and his defence repeatedly claimed his innocence in the case, which gained a special notoriety in the media as the priest was very visible in the nineties in various prominent television shows.
"I'm tense, because this ruling is very important to my life and to the life of the Felices los Niños foundation," Grassi said during an interview this morning.
More than 200 hearings took place as part of the trial, which started in August last year. The prosecutors in the case, Alejandro Varela and Carolina María Rodríguez had requested that the court in the province of Buenos Aires sentence Grassi to 30 years in prison on the 17 counts of aggravated child abuse.