Things That Matter

Deaf Students At A Catholic School In Argentina Are Telling Their Story Of Abuse And Neglect By Priests

Justice may soon be on the horizon for as many as 20 victims who say they were sexually abused, including cases of rape, between 2004 and 2016. Priests Nicola Corradi, 83, Horacio Corbacho, 59 and a former gardener Armando Gomez, 49, are all facing charges of sexually abusing deaf children in their care. The shocking case has sent shock waves through Argentina’s society and the Catholic church. The terrible acts occurred at the Provolo Institute in Mendoza, a Catholic school for deaf children that was founded in 1995 and in which Corradi headed until his arrest in November 2016.

People in Argentina are looking for answers and are asking how this horrendous crime could have happened?

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The two priests and gardener appeared in court Monday to face their long-awaited charges of sexual abuse. The three men face prison sentences of up to 20 years in some cases, up to 50 years in others. The trial, which is expected to last two months, will hear testimony from 13 victims who suffered negligence and abuse between the ages of four and 17, relating to 43 offenses.

News of the abuse at the school broke at the end of 2016 and created a huge scandal. The scandal grew when it became clear that Rev. Corradi was behind the charges. It has been reported that Corradi was accused of similar allegations at the Antonio Próvolo institute in Verona, Italy. Pope Francis, an Argentine, has since been notified that Corradi was behind both allegations but has yet to comment publicly despite on the matter despite his close affiliation. 

There has already been one sentencing in wake of the scandal. Jorge Bordón, an institute employee, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last year on charges of rape, sexual touching, and corrupting minors.

One of the victims has spoken up about his emotions going into the trial and his search for justice. 

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Ezequiel Villalonga,18, is one of the victims of the pedophile priests, says that he was preyed upon at the school as a minor. Villalonga is deaf which makes the case even more heartbreaking. Now, he’s getting the chance to tell his story as the trial goes to court.

“I think that everything in the Church is fake. Everything they made us read, recite, the way (they said) people should live,” Villalonga told the AP in sign language right before the start of the priests’ trial on Monday. “I think they lie and that they’re demonic.”

Villalonga was sent to the school when he was 4 years old after his mother found out her son was deaf when he was only seven months old. For many of those years at Provo, he was only allowed to go home on weekends and spent the majority of his days there inside a massive building with little to no contact. Despite the school’s specialized mission in helping deaf children, he didn’t teach him how to speak during his time there. It was until he was an adult he learned sign language. 

“Life there was terrible. We didn’t learn anything, we couldn’t speak to each other because we didn’t know sign language,” he said. “We would write without knowing what it said, and when we asked other classmates, no one understood anything.”

Things haven’t been easier for his mom, Natalia, who says her family has had to pause their lives due to the case and the horrors that have happened to her son. 

“I am super-nervous, anxious and I hope for justice; that this ends soon so my son can move on to a new stage because this is very hard,” said Natalia Villalonga told the Washington Post.

While the trial is just getting started, the trauma and disbelief for many of the young victims have gone on for too long.

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Paola Gonzalez’s daughter, Milagros, who is now 16 years old, had been one of those 20 abused while attending the Institute. Gonzalez was shocked and angry when she found out what had happened to her daughter at what she considered at one point, a prestigious institution. 

“You should have seen her little body when she went into (the Provolo). She was so small,” Gonzalez told the AP. “I don’t understand, I can’t imagine such evil. How could they do so much harm to such a fragile creature?” 

READ: A Brazilian Gang Leader Thought He Could Use A ‘Scooby-Doo’ Tactic To Escape Prison

A Jury Has Finally Been Selected For The Harvey Weinstein Rape Trial And Gigi Hadid Is Out

Entertainment

A Jury Has Finally Been Selected For The Harvey Weinstein Rape Trial And Gigi Hadid Is Out

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After more than 100 women accused him of varying degrees of sexual assault, Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial is now underway. The jury selection process began almost two weeks ago in New York State Supreme Court, where a diverse pool of prospective jurors gathered, ready for the opportunity to participate in one of the most intense legal battles of the #MeToo movement. However, the process of selecting an impartial jury proved difficult—while 120 prospective jurors showed up that first day, many people admitted an inability to remain unbiased, which ultimately disqualified them from participating in the trial. This pattern continued the following day, when 47 of the additional 120 prospective jurors were dismissed for the same reason.

This past week, one of the people dismissed was supermodel Gigi Hadid. Hadid claimed that she could be fair and impartial if selected as a juror, but her involvement in the Hollywood social scene gave Judge James Burke pause.

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According to a pool reporter inside the Manhattan courtroom, Burke read a list of potential witnesses, asking the potential jurors to speak up if they knew anyone on the list. Hadid raised her hand and said, “I have met Salma Hayek.” She also affirmed that she had met Weinstein before.

“I think I’m still able to keep an open mind on the facts,” she said. But Burke was not convinced, and dismissed her from the selection pool.

Although Weinstein has been accused of harassing scores of women, the trial addresses just five charges from two accusers. The charges include predatory sexual assault, rape, and a criminal sexual act in the first degree. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Yet Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, and he maintains that all of the sexual encounters in question were consensual.

The trial is estimated to last until March, with two weeks of jury selection and eight weeks of arguments and testimony—all before actual deliberations are due to start.

Credit: Associated Press / Mark Lennihan

According to Weinstein’s attorney, Donna Rotunno, one of the major challenges with securing a jury was finding people who are able to commit to such an extensive trial. Weinstein’s defense team has also expressed concern with a perceived inability to locate impartial jurors in New York City—as a metropolitan area heavily tuned in to the media, Weinstein’s team feared that most prospective jurors have been following the case and forming opinions about Weinstein’s misconduct since it was first brought to light in 2017. According to CNN, Weinstein’s team made multiple attempts to move the trial to different cities in New York, where the likelihood of locating unbiased jurors might be higher.

On January 16, seven jurors—four men and three women—were seated. But that day, prosecutors accused Weinstein’s team of deliberately eliminating young white women from the pool of prospective jurors, as Weinstein’s lawyers had used half of their peremptory challenges to excuse prospective white women jurors who were not dismissed for bias or previously deemed unfit by prosecutors.

Why is this important, you may ask? Well, first of all, it’s illegal to use peremptory challenges to eliminate potential jurors on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or religion.

Second of all, while lead prosecutor Joan Illuzi did not clarify why a lack of white women jurors would be problematic for the prosecution, legal experts said that the defense seemed to assume that jurors of this demographic were especially likely to sympathize with Weinstein’s accusers. So, the idea is that the defense tried to limit jurors of this kind in a strategic attempt to prevent even subconscious opposition to Weinstein during the trial.

Yet defense lawyers dismissed this accusation, citing specific reasons for rejecting each individual white woman and claiming that the remaining white female jurors’ responses to a questionnaire ultimately deemed them unfit to sit on the jury.

Rotunno said that the responses to the questionnaire that aimed to determine whether prospective jurors had experienced sexual assault (or knew someone who had) ultimately determined who would be a viable, unbiased candidate for jury selection, and that the defense’s resistance to seating certain individuals “had nothing to do with race or sex.” But due to the high number of women—regardless of race—who have experienced sexual violence, this stipulation largely diminished the number of women deemed fit for consideration at all. On the first day of jury selection alone, roughly 30% of the 120 prospective jurors stepped down for bias linked to personal experiences of sexual assault.

Ultimately, the final 12-person jury is comprised of six white men, one black man, two white women, and three black women. The alternate jurors, who will only serve if one of the first 12 jurors must withdraw, include a white man, a Latina woman and a black woman.

The Puerto Rico Department of Justice Is Seeking An Independent Investigation Into Ricardo Rosselló

Things That Matter

The Puerto Rico Department of Justice Is Seeking An Independent Investigation Into Ricardo Rosselló

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Since Hurricane Irma and then its more vicious successor, Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico hasn’t had a moment of peace. Two years since those devastating hurricanes came the recovery period— and it seemed that with all the progress that was made, there was a suspicious underlying. We knew that there were funds being withheld at the government level from the Trump Administration, but then came news of corruption from the local level. Puerto Rico was once again in turmoil, this time with its lawmakers. Then once the fraud was rooted out (thanks to the people who demanded it) came the earthquakes. Now, Puerto Rico is once again in a period of unsettledness. 

Just when we thought his issues were over, Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice is seeking to investigate former governor Ricardo Rosselló.

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Last summer, Ricardo Rosselló resigned from his role as governor of Puerto Rico after people on the island demanded it. While it was revealed that Rosselló had been involved in inappropriate chats, he was also involved in possible corruption. The Department of Justice has acquired an independent prosecutor to investigate not just Rosselló but several people he chatted with via the Telegram app. At the center of this investigation is not to disclose what was said — because we do know that information, and we’ll get to that later — but instead to discover possible illegalities that Rosselló and others committed while in office. 

On Jan. 10, the Department of Justice tweeted the details over the preliminary inquiry.

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One of the concerns is whether Rosselló conducted illegal transactions that could be “conflicts of interest and violations of the law,” NBC reports. 

“They examined the contents of the group chat, and as part of the investigation, they issued 45 citations to multiple witnesses and over 60 subpoenas to secure documents and information,” DOJ Secretary Denisse Longo Quiñones said in her statement. “In the course of these appointments, participants were asked to show up and deliver their cellphones for registration.” She added, “The Department of Justice has fully complied with its responsibility to complete a preliminary investigation that allows the Office of Independent Special Prosecutors to use its own criteria to determine whether they will accept the recommendation.”

While the Department of Justice has requested an investigation, now it’s up to the Office of Independent Special Prosecutors to present the charges against Rosselló and possibly others if they find illegal actions. 

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As of now, Rosselló is in the clear. It is only after the investigation is concluded will the public know for sure if Rosselló was part of any sort of corruption or if the chats that were disclosed just showed their inappropriateness. 

To recap, Rosselló’s words were more than just wrong. They were simply appalling. We expect this sort of language from President Donald Trump, but not anyone else. 

Last year, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism revealed the chat between Rosselló and his staff (which included a total of 889 pages) in which he disrespected high profile officials and entertainers. 

In Rosselló’s chat concerning San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Christian Sobrino Vega, then Puerto Rico’s chief fiscal officer, said: “I am salivating to shoot her.” Rosselló responded by saying, “You’d be doing me a grand favor.” 

Rosselló also said that Yulín Cruz was “off her meds” after she expressed interest in running for governor. “Either that, or she’s a tremendous HP,” which is an acronym in Spanish that means “son/daughter of a bitch.”

Sobrino Vega also went on to disrespect singer Ricky Martin. “Nothing says patriarchal oppression like Ricky Martin,” Sobrino Vega wrote in the group chat. “Ricky Martin is such a male chauvinist that he f—- men because women don’t measure up. Pure patriarchy.”

But the issue here is not so much what Rosselló said but rather if he misused funds.

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With so much talk about how Trump was withholding funds (he still is by the way), the money that was being made available could have been used in other places and not where it was needed the most. The Center for Investigative Journalism disclosed that some federal money could have been used to conduct partisan work. The investigation shows that Rosselló misused federal funds for his own purposes instead of distributing it in areas that desperately needed it. The investigation will find out if that conduct was done so legally or illegally. 

READ: The Governor Of Puerto Rico Was Caught In A Chat Using Grotesque Homophobic And Sexist Language And The Entire Island Is Calling Him To Resign In Massive Protests