Victims call narrow study on Italian clerical sex abuse 'useless'

Published: 09:33 PM, 17 Nov, 2022
Victims call narrow study on Italian clerical sex abuse 'useless'
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Italian bishops presented results Thursday from a narrow study into clerical sex abuse, while disclosing that over 600 files on alleged crimes in Italy have been sent to the Vatican since 2000.

The Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI) report follows demands by victims' rights groups that the Catholic Church carry out its own national probe into sexual abuse of minors -- similar to high-profile investigations performed in France and Germany.

But victims groups quickly blasted the limited scope of the initial study, which covered just 2020 and 2021.

They lamented the absence of independent, third-party monitors they say are crucial for impartiality and the fact that cases reported directly to judicial authorities were excluded.

"This reports confirms the mere propaganda of the diocesan branches," said Italian victims' group Rete L'Abuso (Abuse Network), branding the 41-page report "useless".

CEI Secretary General Monsignor Giuseppe Baturi told reporters  in the past two decades 613 case files dealing with sex abuse had been sent from Italy's dioceses to the Vatican's powerful Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with abuse.

The number of dossiers, which had never been publicly disclosed, does not necessarily correspond to the number of alleged cases, as a file could include multiple episodes of abuse by a perpetrator, as well as cases later archived, Baturi cautioned.

The report studied data from so-called "listening centres", a network set up in 2019 in Italy's dioceses to allow victims to signal  abuse

Eighty-nine individuals submitted cases over the two-year period, the majority of them aged 10 to 18.

Most alleged crimes involved "inappropriate behaviour and language", and "touching". Over 11 percent involved "sexual relations", according to the report.

Of the 68 alleged perpetrators, 66 percent were clerics and religious brothers, and the remainder lay people.

The report, which did not name dioceses or offer geographical indications, provided scarce information on follow-up actions taken.

"Among the actions taken, 'disciplinary measures' were prevalent, followed by a 'preliminary investigation' and "transmission to the Dicastery", read the report.

First look

Rocked by thousands of reports of sexual abuse around the world by priests and accusations of cover-ups by senior clergy, Pope Francis vowed an "all-out battle" against paedophilia within the Church in 2019.

He has lifted secrecy rules that discouraged the reporting of abuse, obliged those who know about sex abuse to report it to their superiors and streamlined the Vatican office that processes complaints, among other measures.

But campaigners in Catholic-majority Italy, where the Church remains hugely influential, say the country lags behind others in confronting the phenomenon.

The report was a "first photograph" of what the church in Italy was doing to prevent abuse, said Monsignor Lorenzo Ghizzoni, president of the CEI's national service for the protection of minors and the vulnerable, which oversees the learning centres.

Rete L'Abuso has recorded more than 300 cases of priests accused or convicted of child sexual abuse in the past 15 years, out of a total of 50,000 priests across Italy.

The group estimates there could be more than one million victims in the country.

'Not only one'

The CEI study sought to assess the effectiveness of the "listening centre" network -- now found in about 70 percent of Italy's dioceses and mostly run by laywomen -- and the training for those handling abuse complaints.

But victims groups have charged that relying on a religious university, the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Piacenza, to process and interpret the findings received from the dioceses, eroded the report of credibility.

Baturi said the findings would help in evaluating victims services, and suggest follow-up measures, while acting as a springboard for further inquiries.

In recent years, investigations across the United States, Europe and Australia have exposed the scale of clerical sex abuse.

In Portugal, an independent commission last month said it had already compiled over 400 testimonies of alleged victims and called the problem "widespread". A report is due in January.

A top adviser to the Vatican who sits on Francis' commission to protect minors, Hans Zollner, told AFP in February that precise figures on cases in Italy are impossible to come by due to a lack of independent reports and no major push to confront the issue.

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