Argentine priest jailed for 25 years for abuse of minors

Members of the Argentine Homosexual Community (CHA) demonstrate outside Argentina's Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires on April 24, 2010 against the pedophile scandal involving priests of the Catholic Church and the alleged cover-up by the Church's hierarchy of such abuses (AFP Photo/JUAN MABROMATA)

Buenos Aires (AFP) - An Argentine court sentenced a Catholic priest to 25 years in jail on Monday for sexually abusing seven children over a period of years.

Justo Jose Ilarraz had initially been held under house arrest until the 25-year sentence was confirmed on appeal.

Ilarraz, 57, carried out the abuse at a diocesan school in the city of Parana, 600 kilometers (400 miles) north of Buenos Aires, where he was in charge of discipline and spiritual guidance.

Prosecutors said the victims, aged 13 and 14, were boarders at the seminary school and cut off from their families, whom they saw once a month.

The boys were sexually abused by Ilarraz at the seminary between 1985 and 1993, the prosecution said.

Investigators said they believe there may have been other, younger, victims of Ilarraz who chose to remain silent.

"He guided them spiritually. He interacted with the seminarians in an informal way, as a way of establishing a link with them and making the abuse possible, and also as a way of keeping it secret for many years," prosecutor Juan Francisco Ramirez told Argentina's TN television.

Ramirez said the victims had remained silent for years, but went to prosecutors in 2010 after demanding the Catholic Church stop Ilarraz from practising as a priest.

"They did it after learning that the Church had not sanctioned him," he said.

Ilarraz was removed from the seminary in 2012 after an internal Church investigation, but he was allowed to continue practising as a priest in the northern Argentine province of Tucuman.

Seven of the victims testified during the month long trial held behind closed doors.

The priest denied the allegations, calling them a conspiracy.

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