Victims of sexual abuse by prominent Cuenca priests say they are “cautiously optimistic” that an investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will produce justice they have been denied in Ecuador’s legal system.
“Dozens of victims have come forward in several investigations, many at great risk to their reputations and even to their lives and the prosecutor’s office has failed to bring charges,” says Jorge Fernández, attorney for abuse victims. “There have been death threats made against two of my clients and I understand that one of the investigators for the prosecutor’s office was threatened two years ago and was forced off the case.”
Fernández also blames the Cuenca Archdiocese for covering up abuse, saying that the church acts more like a “mafia” than a religion in protecting abusers.
The IACHR, which is considering complaints Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Peru, as well as in Ecuador, says the cases in Cuenca are among the most extreme.
By far the most prominent case is that of César Cordero, who Fernández claims is one of the most protected priests in the world. “The man is a sexual monster who has abused as many as 100 boys and young men over the years and no action has been taken against him,” Fernández says. “He is one of the most decorated priests in Latin America and neither the law nor the church wants to admit the truth.”
Cordero was born into one of Cuenca’s most prominent families, his father the city’s best-known attorney in the early 20th century. His grandfather was president of Ecuador and, later, its poet laureate.
Cordero is the founder of the Catholic University of Cuenca and more than a dozen primary and high schools throughout Ecuador. He is also credited with establishing hospitals, clinics, religious radio and television stations and several Catholic charities. He earned PhDs in Lima and Paris and did post-doctoral work in the U.S. In addition to Spanish, he is fluent in five languages. Among his many honors are grants of citizenship in Italy and Moldova and residency in the U.S. state of Arkansas.
According to Fernández, both the prosecutor’s office and the church hope Cordero will die before they have to admit the full scope of his abuses. “He’s 93 and in poor health and the wish of the powers that be, in the church and the government, is that his death will end the case without having to reveal the terrible details.”
“This is the biggest scandal in Cuenca’s history and one of the most painful,” said a man identified as Gustavo, a victim of Cordero, during a recent radio interview. “People have known about these things for 50 years but no one had the courage to come forward to tell the truth, until now. He was so powerful people were scared.” Gastavo says he one of Fernández’s clients.
Esmeralda Arosemena, IACHR Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, said last week that her office continues to gather evidence and intends to seek justice for those who have been denied and “push” for the the protection and rights of the victims. “From our preliminary investigation it appears the justice system has failed in Cuenca.”
The other Cuenca cases the IACHR is investigating are those of José Luis S. and Fernando Intriago.