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.
The father of a 13-year-old boy whose family has refused treatment for his cancer is urging his son and wife to come back, after neither of them showed up for a court appearance.
A Minnesota judge issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for the mother of Daniel Hauser after she and the boy did not attend a court hearing. A judge had scheduled the hearing to review an X-ray ordered by the court to assess whether the boy’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma was worsening.
The boy’s father, Anthony Hauser, testified at the hearing that he last saw his wife at the family’s farm on Monday night, when she told him she was going to leave “for a time.”
He later told a reporter that he would like his wife and son to return.
“I’d like to tell them, you know, ‘Come back and be safe and be a family again,’ ” he said. “That’s what I’d like to tell them.”
District Judge John R. Rodenberg of Brown County, Minnesota, said that the boy’s “best interests” require him to receive medical care. His family opposes the proposed course of treatment, which includes chemotherapy.
“It is imperative that Daniel receive the attention of an oncologist as soon as possible,” the judge wrote.
During the hearing, Dr. James Joyce testified that he saw the boy and his mother on Monday at his office. He said the boy had “an enlarged lymph node” near his right clavicle and that the X-ray showed “significant worsening” of a mass in his chest.
In addition, the boy complained of “extreme pain” at the site where a port had been inserted to deliver an initial round of chemotherapy. The pain was “most likely caused by the tumor or mass pressing on the port,” testified Joyce, who called the X-ray “fairly dramatic” evidence that the cancer was worsening.
Rodenberg ordered custody of the boy transferred to Brown County Family Services and issued a contempt order for the mother.
A call to the family’s home in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, was not immediately returned.
Philip Elbert, Daniel’s court-appointed attorney, said he considers his client to have a “diminished capacity” because of his age and the illness and believes Daniel should be treated by a cancer specialist.
Elbert added that he does not believe Daniel — who, according to court papers, cannot read — has enough information to make an informed decision regarding his treatment.
Daniel’s symptoms of persistent cough, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes were diagnosed in January as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In February, the cancer responded well to an initial round of chemotherapy, but the treatment’s side effects concerned the boy’s parents, who then opted not to pursue further chemo and instead sought out other medical opinions.
Court documents show that the doctors estimated the boy’s chance of five-year remission with more chemotherapy and possibly radiation at 80 percent to 95 percent.
But the family opted for a holistic medical treatment based upon Native American healing practices called Nemenhah and rejected further treatment.
In a written statement issued last week, an attorney for the parents said they “believe that the injection of chemotherapy into Danny Hauser amounts to an assault upon his body, and torture when it occurs over a long period of time.”
Medical ethicists say parents generally have a legal right to make decisions for their children, but there is a limit.
“You have a right, but not an open-ended right,” Arthur Caplan, director of the center for bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN last week. “You can’t compromise the life of your child.”