BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Activist groups are calling on Pope Francis to guarantee the implementation of the Vatican's "zero tolerance" for sexual abuses by clergy in Argentina, where they say the policy has not been carried out.
The Argentine group Church Without Abuses and the global organizations Ending Clergy Abuse and BishopAccountability.org on Thursday urged Francis to return to his homeland of Argentina, which he hasn't visited since becoming pope in 2013, to ensure the Roman Catholic Church punishes these crimes and does not protect perpetrators.
"If the pope cannot end abuses and cover-ups in Argentina he will not be able to do it anywhere else. This is where he has more power, influence, it is symbolically the most important country in the fight against abuse in the world," Peter Isely, co-founder of Ending Clergy Abuse, told The Associated Press.
Isley and representatives of other activist groups gathered near the Monsignor Mariano Espinosa Home for Priests in Buenos Aires, displaying signs calling for zero tolerance for sex abuses.
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the online resource Bishopaccountability.org, said that while in other countries thousands of cases of abuse have been detected, in Argentina almost no criminal investigations or litigations have been seen.
In Argentina there is no official registry of judicial complaints about abuses committed by members of the clergy.
The AP compiled a list of 66 priests, nuns and other religious workers who, between 2001 and 2017, were accused of abusing dozens of people, most of them children. The figure was obtained from victims' testimonies, judicial and ecclesiastical documents, and local media reports corroborated with the BishopAccountability.org database. In several cases there were no canonical or judicial investigations.
The AP tried to reach the head of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, Óscar Ojea, but he was not available because he was preparing to travel to the Vatican. Ojea said in documents released when he returned from a conference on the protection of minors held in February in Rome that the meeting "sensitized us into making being on the side of the victims our top priority" and to "discard all forms of concealment."