Report of Italian bishops on abuses: 613 files sent to the Doctrine of the Faith

A report made public Thursday, November 17 by the Italian Episcopal Conference takes stock of the work of the territorial network of diocesan services for the protection of minors and vulnerable people. Approximately 89 cases were reported in 2020-21, with 68 suspected abusers. “It’s time for dirty laundry to stop being washed in the family,” said the head of the National Service for the Protection of Minors.

Salvatore Cernuzio – Vatican City

613. The number of files containing allegations of sexual abuse within the Italian Church that were sent by the dioceses of the peninsula to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (today Dicastery for the Doctrine faith) over the past twenty years. Over the period 2020-2021, the number of victims having reported themselves amounts to 89 (including 61 minors) – reporting cases of abuse, half recent, the other in the past – carried out by 68 alleged abusers: priests (30) and religious (15), but also lay people (23) such as professors of religion, sacristans, animators of patronage, heads of associations, directors of offices of the Roman Curia, catechists and presidents of nonprofit organizations. Many of them have been offered reparation pathways in host communities and psychotherapeutic support.

A first in the Italian Church

These data emerge from the first report published on November 17 by the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) on the work carried out by the territorial network of diocesan and interdiocesan services for the protection of minors and vulnerable people in recent years. The Covid pandemic has, it seems, aggravated the phenomenon. A phenomenon, specifies the text, which does not concern only the offense of sexual violence, but also the “harassment”, I’“pornographic exhibitionism”, online harassment, “acts of exhibitionism”, of the “handling”, them “indecent proposals”, the “domestic violence” or, in one case, the“belonging to a satanic sect”.

This document, titled “Protect, Prevent, Train”, was presented at the headquarters of Radio Vatican-Vatican News in the absence of the President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, but in the presence of the Secretary General of the Episcopate, Bishop Giuseppe Baturi, the head of the National Service for protection of minors, Bishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni, as well as some members of the services and centers deployed in the region.

A deeper investigation

Bishop Baturi spoke about the “new” data that have emerged regarding the 613 files containing complaints of abuse that have arrived at the former Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from the Italian dioceses. He explained that a “investigation will be carried out in collaboration with the Dicastery for a qualitative and quantitative examination of the phenomenon that has emerged in Italy over the past twenty years”.

This number is much higher than those communicated in the past by the IEC over the last decade. Bishop Baturi clarified that “according to the information we have gathered, there are more than 600 files, but a review is necessary to understand how many and which victims there are, in what context they live, who the perpetrators are, their profiles, our capacity to respond to complaints. Everything will be researched on real cases and it will take time but the IEC will be supported by independent centres”, he assured.

Methods and repairs

There is no desire to hide, we were able to understand during this press conference. On the contrary, as Bishop Ghizzoni said, “It’s time for dirty laundry to stop being washed as a family”. This report, added the IEC secretary, “is a sign of the desire to systematize new and synergistic methods, with a predisposition of actions, including new ones, to favor a global reading” of pedophilia in the Church, described several times by Francis as “cancer”. And it is precisely thanks to the Pope that a new and different culture has been able to spread in the Italian Church with regard to the fight against abuse, concretized by decisions taken by the assembly of bishops and by “an important attention that must be recognized”. The CEI does not have judicial competence, acknowledged Bishop Baturi, but “it is the sign of a desire to systematize new and synergistic methods”.

Regarding possible reparations, Bishop Baturi, in response to questions from reporters, said: “In the Church, this is an issue that we have looked at at a normative and general level, the Motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi provides support. But we have not formulated more specific forms of assistance, the question of compensation is linked to civil procedure”.

A change of mindset

For his part, the person in charge of the service of protection of the minors underlined a positive change in the perception of the seriousness of the abuses. The response obtained from the various dioceses bears witness to this: “Since the beginning of 2019, thanks to the Permanent Council, a network has been set up. We did not expect that in a year and a half, the dioceses would respond to us. Each of them indicated a diocesan contact person for the child protection service”. Awareness of victims is also “different”: “The real change, as a Church, happened when we started to put ourselves in the shoes of the victims. We shared their pain and their wounds, and starting to consider this factor, more than others, meant that we seriously started to change our style,” said the Archbishop of Ravenna.

This change also occurred “at the social and cultural level; there is a specific awareness of the problem of ill-treatment, but it is still not enough. The dignity of a person is worth more than the whole world”, he explained. And “the Italian Church, with this report, undertakes to evaluate the cases, for an adequate reaction that involves all the subjects of Italian society regarding a problem that belongs to all and which must see greater involvement and synergy”.

One report per year is planned

For the time being, this report constitutes “a first glimpse of what the Italian Church is doing to counter the phenomenon of abuse and engage in prevention”, Bishop Ghizzoni continued. “We’re only just starting”he assured, and what is “urgent” is “certainly to do the truth about the past and the present and do justice, [car] it is a very serious crime and sin. We want this event not to happen, we want to get there sooner so that children, parents, families can access all our environments with true peace of mind and in complete safety”.

The IEC now plans to produce a report each year, with precise indications, in order to “increase prevention activities”. “Our aim is not just to act as a listening center to collect reports and complaints, but to anticipate negative events and train people. Which? Priests, religious, the closest lay collaborators, extending to those who gravitate in the ecclesial environment such as sports coaches, patronage animators, youth centers, Catholic schools… So many areas for that people are attentive, vigilant, ready to act and react,” explained the Italian prelate.

Separate procedures

Another important clarification offered by Bishop Ghizzoni is that“As a Church, we must not and do not want to substitute ourselves for the authorities, nor for the police, nor even less for the justice system: those crimes that must be reported anyway, whoever the abuser, we listen, we welcome them, if they concern people in the life of the Church in order to take ecclesial measures for a just canonical process that leads to consequences, with a known procedure: verification of verisimilitude, investigatio previa, referral to the Doctrine of the Faith, trial, judgment… Up to that point, people have the right to be considered innocent and to the protection of a good reputation”, he recalled.

Day of Prayer November 18

The Archbishop of Ravenna also recalled the day convened on November 18 by the UN for the protection of minors against sexual exploitation and abuse. On this occasion, the Italian Bishops’ Conference urged all parishes, dioceses and movements to organize a day of prayer for victims and survivors. Appropriate texts were also disseminated. All this in order to promote an awareness which, assured the prelate, “will lead more and more people to speak out”: “For a victim, to open this discourse on his life and his past is to discover a wound, a mixture of guilt and humiliation, not to be underestimated to estimate. If the environment becomes more attentive, sensitive and supportive, the victims can open up more and denounce”.

Some victims’ associations – starting with Rete L’Abusowith whose official dialogued directly with Cardinal Zuppi last summer – criticized the report presented today and claimed that the data of the CEI “beat” in reality those which emerge from the study of the CIASE, independent commission of the episcopate, in France.

Report of Italian bishops on abuses: 613 files sent to the Doctrine of the Faith – Vatican News