MENDOZA, Argentina — Ezequiel Villalonga signs frantically with his hands to express the power he feels after years of suffering now that the priests whom he and other former students at an Argentine institute for the deaf accuse of abuse are finally going to trial.
Villalonga, 18, is one of about 20 ex-students of the Antonio Próvolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in Mendoza province who say they were sexually abused, including cases of rape, between 2004 and 2016. Their alleged abusers go on trial starting Monday in a case that Pope Francis, an Argentine, has not commented on publicly despite its closeness to his papacy.
The complaints at the institute came to light at the end of 2016 and created a scandal that deepened when it emerged that one of the accused, the Rev. Nicola Corradi, had been reported for similar allegations at the Antonio Próvolo institute in Verona, Italy, and that the pope had been notified that Corradi was running a similar center in Argentina.
“Those of us from the Próvolo in Mendoza said: ‘no more fear. We have the power,’” Villalonga told The Associated Press with the help of an interpreter, explaining how others decided to come forward after an initial “brave” person did so.
The AP doesn’t name alleged sexual assault victims unless they make their identities public, which Villalonga did in an interview in the headquarters of the human rights group Xumek, which is the plaintiff in the trial.
Alejandro Gullé, chief prosecutor in Mendoza, called the trial “unprecedented, one of the most important in this province, one whose importance will transcend this country.”
On trial for aggravated sexual abuse of minors, sexual touching and corrupting minors will be: Corradi, an Italian who is 83 and under house arrest; the Rev. Horacio Corbacho, a 59-year-old priest; and Armando Gómez, 63. The latter two are Argentines and in prison in Mendoza. Corbacho has pleaded not guilty and the other two defendants have not entered pleas.