Romania: Franciscan Friar’s Orphanage Network Concealed Sexual Violence

Published: 18 May 2023

Childrens Home Sovata RomaniaThe children’s home in Sovata, where the abuse took place. (Photo: Tünde Szabó, Átlátszó Erdély, License)

By Tünde Szabó (Átlátszó Erdély) and Josef Skrdlik (OCCRP)

A Franciscan foundation running homes for orphans and abandoned children in Romania, which was previously implicated in sexual abuse, has tried to cover up yet another case of sexual violence against one of its foster children, as reported by OCCRP's Romanian partner Átlátszó Erdély.

The Saint Francis Foundation, led by Franciscan friar Csaba Böjte, operates a total of 24 children's homes in the central Romanian region of Transylvania.

Mónika, who used to reside in one of the homes located in the town of Sovata, told reporters that during Christmas in 2015, when she was 15, the home's manager blackmailed her into touching his intimate parts after catching her smoking a cigarette.

Mónika claims that in the following weeks, the manager took her on multiple occasions to the home's vacant guest rooms and forced her to have sex with him.

Former educators at the home confirmed to Átlátszó Erdély that the manager was known for making advances towards the girls living in the facility and making sexually abusive comments towards them.

The abuse of Mónika became known among the residents and staff after the manager was caught red-handed by one of Mónika's friends. Böjte subsequently visited the home to gather more information about the case.

While the manager persuaded Mónika to deny the abuse, a manager from another house with a background in psychology informed Böjte that she seemed to be lying during her testimony. The friar eventually fired the abusive manager.

However, he did not report the incident, in contravention of Romania's Children's Rights Protection Act adopted in 2004, which requires all suspected cases of sexual abuse to be reported to child protection authorities.

Átlátszó Erdély discovered that the fired manager verbally and physically intimidated the foster children and staff in the home to keep the incident a secret. It only came to light in 2017 when Mónika reported it to the police.

This is not the only such incident within the foundation.

Another former educator at Böjte's orphanages was sentenced last week to 28 years in prison and a 120,000 euro fine for physically and sexually abusing boys under his care – a practice he was able to continue unhindered for nearly 10 years.