The Italian Catholic Church has identified 68 alleged abusers in an investigation into the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable people that lasted just two years – a time frame criticized as a “joke” by victims’ advocates.
The figure is unbelievably high given that the investigation focused only on the period 2020-2021 and only related to data provided by the so-called “listening centers” set up in 2019 by dioceses across Italy specifically to receive abuse complaints.
The report, part of the church’s first investigation into abuse in its ranks, was released by the Italian bishops’ conference on Thursday. It found that 89 people had filed charges against 68 suspected abusers, including priests and lay people, including church officials and religious teachers.
Out of 89 complaints, 12 related to children under 10 years of age, and 61 to children between 10 and 18 years of age. Sixteen of the alleged victims were over the age of 18, a group defined by the church as “vulnerable individuals”.
A separate investigation is underway focusing on the 2000 allegations, although it is unclear when the results will be released.
A network of victims’ groups, religious and lay associations called for an independent investigation commissioned by the Italian state, similar to those commissioned in the US, Ireland, Chile, France and Germany, which revealed the horrifying scale of sexual abuse and attempts by the Catholic Church churches in those countries to cover it up.
Based on figures published in a report on Thursday, Francesco Zanardi, who founded Rete L’Abuso, Italy’s main victims’ association, estimates that the number of victims of sexual abuse over the past 22 years could be almost 2,000.
“It was already disappointing that the report dismissed allegations made before 2000,” Zanardi told the Guardian. “Sixty-eight abusers in just two years suggests there is a problem, but the time frame of the report is a joke and excludes a bunch of figures – no data from the judges or Reta L’Abuso. They only said about ‘listening centres’. This report is shamefully inadequate.”
The Vatican has files on 613 cases of abuse reported from Italy dating back to 2000.
Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni said during a press conference that the report was “just the beginning,” adding that awareness of the gravity of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church had grown and that real change began “when we began to put ourselves in the victim’s shoes.” their pain and wounds, and starting to take this factor into account meant that we started to seriously change our style,” said Ghizzoni.
However, he reiterated that “93% of cases of abuse occur in the family or within the ‘circle of trust’ created in environments where minors are”. “It’s time to stop washing dirty laundry in the family,” he said. “We must do this as a church, but this awareness must grow in all areas of civil society.”
Ghizzoni said there was a “moral obligation” to denounce allegations of abuse, although it was unclear which authorities’ reports should be referred to.
Victims’ advocates have repeatedly called on the Italian state to bring pedophile priests to justice and devise a plan to protect children from sexual abuse by priests.
An agreement between the Italian government and the Vatican means that most child abuse investigations in Italy are conducted behind a wall of secrecy within the jurisdiction of the Holy See. If found guilty by a Vatican court, most priests end up being transferred to a new diocese instead of being defrocked or imprisoned. Few of those found guilty by the Italian court are in prison.
The findings of an investigation in France published last year showed that the clergy abused 216,000 children over seven decades. A report in Germany criticized former Pope Benedict XVI for allegedly failing to take action against four priests accused of sexually abusing children while he was archbishop of Munich between 1977 and 1982.
“It is a shame that the Italian state is not doing anything about it,” said Zanardi. “In normal countries there is an independent investigation, but not in Italy. Something doesn’t add up.”
Cristina Balestrini, who runs a group for victims of abuse and their families, said: “It’s scandalous. This report is not about helping victims or getting justice for them. What is the purpose of that?”