Italy’s Catholic bishops filed their first report on clerical sexual abuse and revealed on Thursday that more than 600 cases from Italy had been on file with the Vatican since 2000.
The report of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, which only included complaints received by local Italian church authorities over the past two years, did not mention hundreds of cases. It has identified 89 alleged victims and about 68 accused.
But in response to a reporter’s question during a press conference about the report, Monsignor Giuseppe Batory revealed that the bishops’ conference was looking into 613 files held in the Vatican House of the Doctrine of the Faith.
In 2001 the Vatican required dioceses around the world to send all their credible reports of abuse to the Directorate for processing. The Vatican felt compelled to act after decades during which bishops and heads of religion moved predatory priests from parish to parish rather than punish them or report them to the police.
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Batory, general secretary of the bishops’ conference, noted that some of the 613 cases may have been archived and some may contain multiple victims of a serial predator.
“We have to understand the number of victims, what is their profile and who is responsible,” he said.
The semi-random revelation confirmed that the initial report of the bishops’ conference was not intended to provide an accurate or historical view of the problem of clerical abuse in Italy. The country’s bishops did not authorize such research despite demands from survivors for a full accounting, which some other Catholic churches in Europe have published.
Instead, the Italian bishops limited the scope of their report to assessing the work of “listening centers” set up in dioceses since 2019 to receive victims’ complaints. Organizers said during a press conference Thursday that the report provided a “first picture” of the problem and that the bishops intended to issue annual reports from now on.
The report said 89 people had submitted reports in the past two years and identified 68 of the abusers. It found that most of the victims were between the ages of 15 and 18 when the abuse occurred, although 16 were adults deemed “vulnerable” by the church. Most of the allegations involved inappropriate language or behavior and touching.
The numbers pale in comparison to the known case count kept by Italy’s main survivor group, Rete L’Abuso, which estimates nearly 1 million victims in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country. The group has identified some 178 accused priests, 165 priests convicted by Italian law enforcement authorities, and some 218 new cases.
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However, the numbers reported by the Italian bishops even in the last two years are significant, said Francesco Zanardi, president of the Rete l’Abuso.
“If they receive 89 complaints in two years, this means that the problem exists and it is significant,” he said in a phone interview.
Zanardi noted that an unusually high proportion of the accused were church workers — about 34%, compared to 66% of priests or religious brethren. He noted that casual abusers often find it easier to reach out to potential victims in the extensive volunteer programs the Church runs in Italy because background checks are less rigorous.
Monsignor Lorenzo Ghezzoni, head of the Italian Church’s National Child Protection Service, said the numbers in the report were significant given the reporting period that covered when church activities were closed or curtailed due to COVID-19.
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“These are just a few examples, but they are a lot,” said Ghizoni, especially for a system for receiving complaints that was just getting started.
From the outset, the scope of the Italian report was far more limited than the approach taken by the Catholic hierarchy in many European countries to try to respond to the demand for accountability for clerical sexual abuse.
When he announced the planned report in May, the president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Matteo Zubi, insisted that the scope of the study and the compressed six-month timeframe for its release would enable the researchers to provide more “accuracy and accountability.” outcome.
Whether by government mandate, parliamentary inquiry or church initiation, such reports in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and France have identified systemic problems that have allowed the abuse of thousands of children by Catholic priests.
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In France, a panel of independent experts estimated that 330,000 children were sexually abused over 70 years by some 3,000 priests and church employees, and that the crimes were “systematically” covered up by the church hierarchy. This report, and a series of revelations about high-level abusers, sparked a crisis of confidence in the French Catholic Church.
Zanardi alleged that the Italian report was clearly an attempt to “minimize” and cover up the scale of clerical sexual abuse in Italy. “It’s a shame. It’s partial and you don’t really know what it’s for,” he said.