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The Sex Abuse of Deaf Orphans in Pope Francis’ Backyard

“Giuseppe” was born to impoverished parents outside of Verona in northern Italy with a congenital birth defect that left him deaf and mute. When it became clear that his parents could not provide for him—much less communicate with him—they brought him to the local Catholic church, which enrolled him in their Antonio Provolo Institute for deaf and mute children. It was here he learned to communicate through standard sign language and other visual cues. It was also where he became one of scores of victims of the priests and religious brothers who ran the school.

When he was 11, a monk who worked at the institute as an educator started teaching “special secret signs” for things like masturbation, fellatio, penis, and anus. “I didn’t understand at first just why this man was teaching me these strange secret signs,” Giuseppe explained in an exclusive, and very emotional, interview in Rome. “Then one day it became very clear when one of the priests made the secret sign for fellatio when we were alone, which was followed by him pushing his erect penis into my mouth.”

From that point on, Giuseppe said through his interpreter—often using fast and somewhat violent sign language as tears ran down his face—priests and the brothers would give a sign to the young boys and then take them to special rooms Giuseppe says were used for “time out” punishments or as resting areas. He said that because everyone was deaf at the school except those who worked there, no one could hear the screams and cries of the young boys when the abuse took place. Giuseppe said that on several occasions he and others tried to write down what was happening, but because their letters and notes were given to the priests and brothers to be mailed out, they were likely intercepted.

“You would see friends with tears rolling down their faces and you knew exactly what had just happened. You didn’t need to hear to know.”

“Of course we screamed and cried,” he said. “Sometimes you would see priests coming into the dormitory at night, or you would see friends with tears rolling down their faces and you knew exactly what had just happened. You didn’t need to hear to know.”

The abuse against Giuseppe allegedly lasted for seven full years, until he turned 18 and left the institution. Whenever he tried to explain what was happening to him inside the school, no one understood because the language he had been taught to describe the sexual acts was incomprehensible to sign-language readers. “It was so frustrating that no one understood what we said,” Giuseppe explained, adding that even after he left the institution and lived in another Catholic charity house, he had a difficult time making anyone understand what had happened. “It took a long time for us to be believed.”

Giuseppe is one of 67 young boys who have been named in court documents and were allegedly abused by more than two dozen priests and brothers at the Provolo Institute, according to Verona prosecutors who have been investigating the allegations for nearly a decade and who plan to bring it to trial later this year.

One of the most notorious alleged offenders was Father Nicola Corradi, now 83, who was moved to South America in the mid-1980s after Giuseppe and others’ abuse claims came to light. Rather than handing him over to secular authorities or asking the mother church in Rome to defrock him, the bishop transferred him to the Provolo Institute in Mendoza, Argentina. Several other priests accused of abuse in Verona were also transferred to the sister school in Argentina, but have since passed away.

In Argentina, court documents there would later allege that Corradi was soon up to his usual practices and, despite credible reports from Italy that were beginning to surface, he was allowed to stay in his job at the school for the deaf, where he apparently found like-minded abusers. He was finally arrested in 2016 on allegations that he abused 22 deaf and mute children over the course of nearly three  decades. Three other priests were arrested with him. There are more than 60 civil trials going on across Argentina against priests like Corradi who allegedly abused children.

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