A Roman Catholic priest who won fame running an Argentine foundation for poor youths was convicted Wednesday of sexually molesting a boy who participated in the program. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
A three-judge panel found Father Julio Grassi guilty of one count of sexual abuse and one count of corrupting a minor. He was acquitted of 15 other charges alleging abuse of two other boys at his “Happy the Children” Foundation. All the alleged crimes occurred in 1996.
Grassi, 52, continued to proclaim his innocence, saying he was “the victim of an injustice.”
“I feel ashamed for justice, not for me,” he said after the verdict.
Outside the court, protesters demanding Grassi’s imprisonment scuffled with the priest’s supporters. Two people were detained by police.
Grassi became widely known in Argentina after starting the “Happy the Children” Foundation in 1993, opening several homes for poor children and doing other charitable work.
Through television appearances and other appeals, the priest raised millions of dollars (euros), many of the donations coming from important public figures who distanced themselves from the priest after the allegations.
A lawyer for one of the alleged victims said it was good that Grassi was sentenced, but he criticized the priest’s acquittal on most of the charges.
“We are going to appeal the verdict because there are facts that have not been considered,” attorney Juan Pablo Gallego said.
The court withheld the identities of the three alleged victims.
Grassi was the third member of the Argentine church to be convicted of sexually abusing minors.