A court in Buenos Aires Province on Tuesday cleared a retired priest of sexual abuse charges, ruling that the statue of limitations on the case had expired.
The decision from the three-judge panel overseeing the court sparked anger from his accuser, 33-year-old Mailín Gobbo, who accused the courts of “covering up for a paedophile” and vowed to appeal.
The former priest, 62-year-old Carlos Eduardo José, was accused in court of "seriously outrageous sexual abuse,” which was “aggravated by holding an ecclesiastical position."
José was accused of multiple counts of rape and sexual abuse against Gobbo, who alleged the abuse took place between 1999 and 2008 at the Instituto San José Obrero, in Caseros, Buenos Aires Province, and other locations, when she was aged between 12 and 21.
However, the three-judge panel overseeing Oral Court No. 2 in San Martín threw out the case on Tuesday, saying the statute of limitations had expired. José, who has been behind bars for more than a year, held under pre-trial detention, will now be freed.
"The judges, the lawyers, those who came to support him are accomplices. They cover up a paedophile, he now goes out and abuses me again. He abused me for 15 years and he is not going to abuse me again," said Gobbo, speaking after the ruling.
The verdict will be appealed before the Cassation Court and the Supreme Court if necessary, said Gobbo's lawyer, Héctor Silveira, who had asked for 20 years in prison for the retired priest.
The defendant "never denied the facts, but they [his legal team] rely on the statute of limitations to absolve him," the lawyer said angrily.
According to the Associated Press, Silveira said an appeal would be based partly on the argument that Argentina’s Constitution accepts the International Convention on the Rights of Children, which he said maintains that sexual abuse charges involving minors should have no statute of limitations.
Jose directed the Instituto San José Obrero when Gobbo was a student at the school. Three other complaints against José, also made by other former students, have previously been made.
According to Silveira, the former priest "took Mailín out of classes every day. He took her to a basement, to a little office. He had the authority to enter the class and say: so and so come with me."
"There are hundreds of victims, but many do not dare to come forward,” claimed the lawyer, who said José preyed in particular on "silent, withdrawn girls from vulnerable families.”
Gobbo filed the criminal complaint that ignited an investigation in 2017, though she says she had already denounced her abuser before local Church authorities in San Martín back in 2009. José was later transferred to another parish, some 300 kilometres from Buenos Aires and in 2019, he resigned from the priesthood.
According to local media, in 2017, after Gobbo’s criminal complaint was first filed, the priest wrote a letter to the alleged victim’s mother in which he said that "perhaps he was too affectionate" with the student.
According to the Ecclesiastical Abuse Survivors Network, there are more than 70 criminal complaints involving sexual abuse and the Church in Argentina in the courts.
Neither Church officials nor José’s attorneys commented on the verdict.