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Argentine court clears former priest in sexual abuse case

March 9, 2021 GMT
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Mailin Gobbo reacts as she leaves the courtroom after hearing a judge acquit former Catholic Priest Carlos Eduardo Jose, who she says sexually abused her for years when she was an adolescent, in San Martin, Argentina, Tuesday, March 9, 2021. The court acquitted the 62-year-old, citing the statute of limitations had run out. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
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Mailin Gobbo reacts as she leaves the courtroom after hearing a judge acquit former Catholic Priest Carlos Eduardo Jose, who she says sexually abused her for years when she was an adolescent, in San Martin, Argentina, Tuesday, March 9, 2021. The court acquitted the 62-year-old, citing the statute of limitations had run out. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A court on Tuesday cleared a retired priest of sexual abuse charges on grounds the statute of limitations on the alleged crimes had expired.

Former priest Carlos Eduardo José, 62, had spent more than a year in custody during the legal process and the ruling by a three-judge panel in the city of San Martin means he can go free.

Attorneys for his accuser, Mailin Gobbo, said they would appeal.

Gobbo, now 33, accused José of “grave sexual abuse” from 1999 to 2008 when she was a student at a parochial school he oversaw in the town of Caseros, outside of Buenos Aires, and even later at a different school.

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She said she complained to local archbishopric in 2009 and said authorities apparently took no strong action against him. Pope Francis accepted José’s resignation from the priesthood in 2019.

Three other complaints against the former priest by other former students were earlier dismissed by other courts, also on statute of limitations grounds.

Gobbo confronted one of the defense attorneys after the session, saying, “You are all accomplices. You don’t think of the people.” Several supporters placed posters denouncing the former priest around the courthouse.

Neither church authorities nor José’s attorneys commented on the verdict, though the local bishopric issued a statement in February praying “for a just final ruling that can bring peace to the people involved and offer light to the shadows cast on all the victims of this aberrant crime.”

Local prosecutors and Gobbo’s attorney had sought a 20 year prison sentence, saying the priest never denied the crime, but merely argued Gobbo had waited too long to file a complaint.

Her attorney, Héctor Silveira, indicated 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 of minors should have no statute of limitations.