Court issues arrest warrant for Grassi
Judges reprimand priest convicted of sexual abuse for violating house arrest conditions
A court in the Buenos Aires province district of Morón ordered the arrest of priest Julio César Grassi yesterday for “failing to fulfil the conditions of his house arrest.”
The tribunal issued this ruling after the Buenos Aires province Supreme Court upheld Grassi’s 15-year prison sentence for sexually abusing a boy in his “Happy Children” foundation.
However, Morón’s general prosecutor Federico Nieva Woodgate specified that even though the ruling brings Grassi closer to jail, “it does not actually order his detention.”
Grassi maintained his innocence during the appeal and continued to live in a house across the street from the foundation, despite the conviction and additional allegations that he had abused more than a dozen children there.
The court found him guilty of abusing one boy, with the rest of the charges dismissed for lack of evidence.
The victim’s attorney, Juan Pablo Gallego, said Grassi should be arrested lest he try to escape now that his pedophilia conviction has been confirmed.
“Now we’re waiting for the justice system to revoke the privileges given to the pedophile,” said the lawyer.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires province upheld Grassi’s conviction for two cases of aggravated sexual abuse and a third for corruption of minors committed against Gallego’s client, who was a teenager in 1996 when he attended the priest’s Happy Children foundation.
Gallego said yesterday that Grassi should also go to prison for sexually abusing other victims — not just the one he was found guilty of — and that his prison sentence should really total 37 years.
Other plaintiffs are pushing for the trial against Grassi to continue, saying he still needs to answer to accusations that he abused two other youths.
The priest’s attorneys declined to comment on their client’s current situation, but they are expected to appeal again in a bid to take the case to the national Supreme Court.
Over the past year, the priest has been under house arrest subject to certain conditions, as his sentence was delayed pending the appeal’s outcome.
‘The characteristics of a sexual abuser’
In the only psychiatric evaluation he underwent, Grassi was defined as possessing the “charaterstics and signs similar to a sexual abuser.” But the priest has always insisted on his innocence, even after he was condemned.
Gallego said the victims are currently between 27 and 28 years old and live “in humble conditions.”
The lawyer claimed that the harm Grassi had caused was “irreversible.”
“This man was in charge of abandoned kids with family problems,” stated Gallego. “This sentence, in a way, will redress the harm.”
Grassi was well known for his work as president of the Happy Children foundation, which operated several children’s homes across the country and received funds from fund-raising drives held in numerous television programmes.
Through these TV appearances, Grassi raised millions of dollars for the foundation — many of the donations coming from celebrities and prominent figures who distanced themselves from the priest after the allegations surfaced.
The investigation began in 2002, when the programme Telenoche reported accusations against Grassi for alleged sexual abuse against minors he was supposed to protect.
In 2009, he was condemned for only two of the 17 charges against him and received a 15-year sentence.
But despite the ruling, he was in prison for only a month.
The court allowed Grassi to remain free as long as he followed certain restrictions and obligations. Among those were that he was no longer allowed to go to the foundation, nor be alone with children. He was also forbidden from speaking of those who accused him of abuse.
House arrest condition violations
Last year, the prosecution ordered Grassi to be put under house arrest for having violated its conditions, but the Morón court quashed the order.
He was accused of violating the contact with minors condition, after he allegedly spoke to “Gabriel.” He was also accused of violating the condition of speaking of the minors when he allegedly called one of his accusers a “liar.”
There also was another accusation, made by lawyer Fernando Burlando, that Grassi held a meeting in the “Happy Children” fund premises in 2011 — another violation of his restrictions.
The priest’s defence attorney appealed the new arrest warrant, leading the Morón court to annul the resolution due to procedural issues, thus allowing the priest to remain free.
This decision was appealed by the prosecution and the plaintiff’s attorney, and now the Morón court has reversed its past decision, ordering Grassi’s arrest.
The ruling from Morón Courtroom 6, signed by Judges Ricardo Maidana and Horacio Piombo, highlighted that Grassi “had not fulfilled the restrictive prison sentence provided as an alternative, as he participated in a TV programme and publicly referred to the alleged victims in the case.”
Judges were referring to the time Grassi went to a programme hosted by presenter Mauro Viale and referred to a victim — effectively violating restrictions that the priest had to follow since his 2009 house arrest in a country house across the Happy Children foundation.
The “alternative prison” regime that he had to fulfill is part of article 159 of the Buenos Aires code of criminal procedures.
According to the ruling, this violation should be added to the charges against him made by Criminal Court No. 2 and the Buenos Aires provincial Supreme Court.
The court underlined that these actions “revealed the need to revoke the privileges that he was enjoying and order his arrest.”
However, Morón prosecutor Federal Nieva Woodgate specified that the tribunal “does not order (Grassi’s) detention.”
According to Nieva Woodgate, “there is now a wide range of options, as defence can present an extraordinary appeal before the (national) Supreme Court.”
“This means the decision makes the sentence more definite but does not close the case,” the prosecutor said.
‘Grassi is totally innocent’
Río Negro bishop Marcelo Cuenca defended Grassi yesterday affirming that he had not committed sexual abuse and claimed that the evidence found was “a media manoeuvre sponsored by economic powers.”
“Honestly, and without even having to go before a judge, I think father Grassi is totally innocent and they are just gunning for him. It’s an accusation based on other motives,” Cuenca said.
The bishop claimed that a certain powerful economic group wanted Grassi to be put in jail because he hadn’t wanted to be involved with them.
Herald with AP, DyN, Ámbito.com