Argentine archbishop found guilty of gender-based violence against nuns — By: Catholic News Agency

Archbishop Mario Antonio Cargnello of Salta, Argentina. / Credit: Archdiocese of Salta

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

A civil court judge in Argentina’s Salta province ruled in favor of the Carmelite sisters in Salta, the provincial capital, in a case of gender-based violence against the local archbishop, Mario Antonio Cargnello, a bishop emeritus, and two priests, ordering them to undergo psychological treatment and training on gender issues in addition to an existing restraining order.

The case involves the Discalced Carmelite sisters of San Bernardo convent, who have been in conflict with the archdiocese for years. In addition, the bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Nuevo de Julio, Martín de Elizalde, is also among the defendants along with the judicial vicar, Father Loyola Pinto y de Sancristóval, and Father Lucio Ajaya.

According to the Argentine news site Infobae, the issue underlying this situation is the conflict over the alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary to María Livia Galliano de Obeid in Salta, a phenomenon that has received support from the women religious but has not yet been approved by the Catholic Church.

The phenomenon began more than two decades ago and led to attributing to Mary the title of “the Immaculate Mother of the Divine Eucharistic Heart of Jesus,” which is under observation and study by the Church but each year attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Salta.

From the time the apparitions were made public, the Carmelites gave their support to the visionary. However, the Archdiocese of Salta questioned the authenticity of the phenomenon.

In the ruling issued April 5 by Judge Carolina Cáceres Moreno, the underlying issue was not addressed but specifically the object of the complaint: the relationship between the archbishop and the nuns, which reached the maximum point of conflict when the sisters became part of a foundation that gave a sort of legal status to the apparitions.

Consequently, in 2021 the Holy See sent Bishop de Elizalde, accompanied by Sister Isabel Guirov, as apostolic visitors in order to “analyze the problems raised.”

The following year, the Holy See ordered the religious congregation to “not in any way get involved in activities linked to the so-called spiritual work ‘I am the Immaculate Mother of the Divine Eucharistic Heart of Jesus’ and ‘I am the Most Sacred Eucharistic Heart of Jesus,’” the name of the spiritual movement formed around the alleged apparitions.

The meetings the sisters had with the archbishop, the apostolic visitors, and other factors are apparently what led the nuns to file a complaint for gender-based violence.

According to Infobae, the judge concluded that the Discalced Carmelites “have suffered acts of gender violence of an institutional scope of a religious, physical, psychological, and financial nature for a period of more than 20 years.”

She also pointed out “the obstruction/delay/refusal in the election of the prioress and the loan of money to the bishop, which hasn’t been returned to date, which constituted psychological and financial gender violence.”

The judge also made reference to “what happened during the apostolic visit carried out by Bishop Martín de Elizalde, in which they suffered psychological gender violence.”

As a result of these events, the judge determined that the four defendants must “undergo psychological treatment with a gender perspective in order to work on patterns of relationships and acts of violence.” Therefore, for six months they must submit monthly proof of compliance to the court. In addition, they must undergo training on gender violence “in order to modify behavioral patterns.”

The judge also enjoined women religious to go on “retreats and/or do spiritual exercises in order to psychologically process the consequences of the gender violence suffered; being required to present the respective proofs to this court on a monthly basis for a period of six months.”

Eduardo Romani, Cargnello’s defense lawyer, criticized the verdict as “flawed” and lacking any foundation in the law. He has already filed an appeal.

“We are facing a totally flawed process where the basic norms established for gender issues were not met. In our understanding the ruling exceeds the powers granted to Ms. Judge Cáceres Moreno, by which she clearly failed to comply with her duties,” Romani told Nuevo Diario de Salta, stressing that the judge’s decision doesn’t comply with Law 7888, which deals with protection against gender violence.

For the lawyer, these alleged errors make it clear that his client was not fairly treated nor in accordance with the law and that he was prejudged “from the beginning of the case,” pointing out that there “was a marked lack of respect on the part of the magistrate, who at all times addressed in a derogatory manner the highest authority of the Church in the province of Salta, something she did not do with the rest of those involved in this trial.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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