And in a particularly abhorrent case, after a 5-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a priest, the Roman Catholic nun allegedly forced her to wear a diaper in class, to conceal the bleeding, according to Argentine news reports.
Because the other children at the school were deaf, only the victims’ abusers would have heard their cries.
The nun, named Kosaka Kumiko, was arrested and charged Friday on suspicion of helping priests sexually abuse children at the Antonio Provolo Institute, a school for the hearing-impaired in the Mendoza province of Argentina, authorities said. She was also charged with physically abusing the students.
Kumiko’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.
At least 24 students of the Provolo Institute in Argentina have come forward seeking justice for the abuse they say they suffered years ago at the hands of the Rev. Nicola Corradi, 82, the Rev. Horacio Corbacho, 55, and three other men. The five were arrested in late November by police who raided the school in Lujan de Cuyo, a city about 620 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, after they found magazines featuring naked women and about $34,000 in Corradi’s room, the Associated Press reported.
Kumiko arrived Thursday in Mendoza for a nearly nine-hour hearing before a judge after a month of being a fugitive, according to La Nacion. She is believed to have been hidden in northeast Argentina or in a bordering country and turned herself in to authorities in Buenos Aires last week.
Wearing her habit and a bulletproof vest in the courtroom, she denied all the accusations, telling the judge “I knew nothing of the abuses, I watched over the children.”
“I’m innocent,” Kumiko said. “I did not know about the abuses. I am a good person that has given my life to God.”
Authorities began investigating Kumiko’s role in the scandal when a 17-year-old girl came forward to allege the nun had placed a dressing or diaper over her bleeding when she was 5 years old, preventing her from sitting in the classroom. Other victims came forward accusing Kumiko of actively participating in the abuse while she lived in the Provolo Institute, from 2004 to 2012, authorities said, according to the Associated Press.
Kumiko’s role was to take care of hearing-impaired children who lived far from Greater Mendoza and had to board at the school. Instead, she targeted the most vulnerable children and covered up abuse by her superiors, prosecutors allege, according to Argentine news outlet Clarín.
Victims and prosecutors say the priests are accused of raping, sexually abusing and fondling the students in bathrooms, dorms, a garden and a basement at the school.
The school has “a little chapel with an image of the Virgin and some chairs where the kids would get confession and receive the communion. That’s where some of the acts were happening,” former lead prosecutor Fabrizio Sidoti told the Associated Press.
One of the alleged victims told the Associated Press she witnessed how a girl was raped by one priest while the other one forced her to give him oral sex
“They always said it was a game: ‘Let’s go play, let’s go play’ and they would take us to the girls’ bathroom,” said one of the women who claims that she was abused at the school in Argentina.
Dozens of students in the Provolo Institute’s school in Italy were similarly abused for decades. Some victims accuse Corradi, the same priest now being charged in Argentina, according to the Associated Press.
In 2009, students in the Italian school went public with horrifying tales of their abuse. The Vatican ordered an investigation and sanctioned four accused priests, but not Corradi.
After the students again named Corradi as an abuser living in Pope Francis’s native Argentina in a 2014 letter to the pope and a bishop in Verona, Italy, the Vatican still took no action. But this year a Vatican official said Pope Francis wanted to assure the victims that the church was taking measures to protect children and prevent sexual abuse. A Vatican investigative commission recently visited Mendoza to learn more about the case against the priests.
The accused priests are being held at a jail in Mendoza and have not spoken publicly since the arrests. If found guilty, they could face 10 to 50 years in prison.
Lawyers called Kumiko “the demon with the face of a woman” behind the abuse, Prensa Libre reported.
Kumiko was born in Japan and arrived in Argentina with her family in 1977. Her parents later died, and Kumiko became a nun in the year 2000. After serving at the Provolo Institute, she was based in different religious schools in the province of Buenos Aires.
In court, Kumiko said the allegations are a “strategy of the victims’ families to get money.” She said the wave of accusations against priests and nuns is nothing more than “a campaign of discrediting the Church, intended to defile an entire religious order.”