Two Argentine alumni accuse a teacher of sexual abuse at the school where Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis, taught. Gonzalo Elizondo and Pablo Vio are 32 years old and were students at Colégio del Salvador at 11. The site is a century-old educational institution run by the Catholic religious order of the Jesuits in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentine friends accuse brother César Destinos of sexually abusing 42 students at the school.
According to the newspaper El País, it took Elizondo and Vio 20 years to realize that they had the same story. Shipping died in 2015 and was not tried by the courts, but school officials acknowledge the abuse.
The former students accuse the school of covering up the cases. “A lot of adults didn’t do what they were supposed to do. They neglected us and abandoned us. They knew there was a predator and all they did was move it somewhere else and cover it up,” Vio said.
Argentinian friends allege that Destinos committed the abuse in 2002, when he was a teacher in the 6th grade, but, due to the trauma, they did not tell anyone and tried to forget what happened. The following year, César Destinos was transferred to a location more than a thousand kilometers away, causing rumors of abuse to gain traction.
Elizondo said he rethought what happened during a spiritual retreat, when he woke up in the middle of the night and felt the accused’s hand in his pants. “He said I was sleepwalking and that he took me back to the room, but I was never sleepwalking. When I heard the rumors, I realized he was really molesting me.”
As for Vio, it took him a little longer to understand what had happened. Because there was no sex education at school, which is now a mandatory course there, the students had no idea how to act or respond when Camisas talked about sexual topics in class.
According to the victim, he “was preparing us little by little”. “One day in his office he asked me to drop my pants, touched my penis, ran his hands over my body and asked me to compare myself in the locker room with my colleagues and then tell him about it. I even thought at the time that I was lucky to have someone to teach me about these things. No one ever told me this was wrong.”
Elizondo recalled that he approached the college’s employees in 2019 to talk about the abuse and, three years later, dozens of other victims joined the cause, but all of them remain without a response and cooperation from Colégio del Salvador.
The institution defended itself, saying it had already “apologised to the school community and taken steps to prevent further abuse”.
In 2003, a letter apologizing on behalf of the professor had in one of its signatures that of Jorge Black, current dean, and Rafael Velasco, dean at the time. “First, we ask again for the forgiveness of those who suffered what they should not have suffered in this school. We are ashamed. We are deeply sorry. That is why we are publicly asking for your forgiveness.”
The transfer letter also said it was necessary to “protect” the students. “The directors of the school and the Society of Jesus did what they thought best at the time, which was to remove the accused from his position and protect the students from further harm.”
The first complaint, according to Vio, took place in 1998, a year after Camisas became a professor. “A family approached the rector, Luis de Maussion, saying that their son had been abused by Destinos. De Maussion rejected the story and decided to keep Destinos in his position.”
The second complaint was made in 2001, when a student told Dean Velasco about the attempt by Destinos to molest him. “The dean not only rejected his testimony, but he publicly called the boy a liar in front of his classmates,” Vio said.
Having been a professor there in the 1960s, the pope has not spoken publicly or to students. Elizondo said he wrote a letter to the Vatican in 2020 asking for the cleric’s help, but he never got a response. “He is protecting them. Acknowledging the abuse would mean ending that protection,” Vio said.