June 10, 2009 / 8:53 PM / 10 years ago

Argentine priest gets 15 years prison for sex abuse

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A well-known Argentine priest was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Wednesday for sexually abusing a boy at his “Happy Children” foundation, in the latest pedophilia case to hit the Roman Catholic Church.

Argentine Roman Catholic priest Julio Cesar Grassi (R) talks to journalists after leaving a court room in Moron, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, June 10, 2009. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

After a nine-month trial, a court in a Buenos Aires suburb found Father Julio Grassi guilty of sexually abusing one boy during the 1990s but absolved him of molesting two others.

Leftist protesters waving signs calling Grassi a rapist demonstrated outside the tribunal, scuffling with the priest’s supporters in the street after the verdict was given.

“I’m astounded, frozen and embittered by this,” Grassi, 52, told a local television station.

A media-savvy priest known for founding the “Felices los Ninos” foundation for poor and troubled youth, Grassi has always proclaimed his innocence.

His lawyer vowed to appeal the verdict.

Prosecutors said they were considering an appeal on behalf of the two plaintiffs whose sexual abuse accusations were dropped. They complained that the court did not order Grassi’s imprisonment while any appeals are pending.

“The risks are clear, all the expert findings indicate that this person can’t control his sexuality ... the court has decided to allow a known pedophile, in charge of a foundation for children, to remain free. It’s nonsense,” said Juan Pablo Gallego, a lawyer supporting the plaintiffs’ case.

Latin America is home to nearly half the world’s Roman Catholics. Argentina is predominantly Catholic but many criticize the Church for its inaction during the 1976-83 “Dirty War,” when some priests openly supported military rule.

Last month, an Irish report detailed decades of child abuse in Catholic-run state schools and orphanages, the latest chapter in sex abuse scandals that have shaken the Catholic Church around the world.

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