di Paolo Tessadri
Decine di bambini e ragazzi sordi violentati e molestati in un istituto di Verona fino al 1984. E dopo decenni di tormenti, gli ex allievi trovano la forza di denunciare gli orrori. Ma molti dei sacerdoti sono ancora lì Per oltre un secolo è stato un simbolo della carità della Chiesa: una scuola specializzata per garantire un futuro migliore ai bambini sordi e muti, sostenendoli negli studi e nell'inserimento al lavoro. L'Istituto Antonio Provolo di Verona ospitava i piccoli delle famiglie povere, figli di un Nord-est contadino dove il boom economico doveva ancora arrivare. Fino alla metà degli anni Ottanta è stato un modello internazionale, ma nel tetro edificio di Chievo, una costruzione a metà strada tra il seminario e il carcere, sarebbero avvenuti episodi terribili.
We victims of pedophile priests
By Paolo Tessadri
Tens of deaf children and boys were abused and molested sexually in a catholic school in Verona until 1984. And after decades of torments, the former students find the force to denounce those horrors. But many of those priests are still there.
For more than a century it has been a symbol of the charity of the church: an Institution specialized to guarantee a better future for deaf and mute children, helping them for their education and the possibility to find a job. The Antonio Provolo’s Instituion in Verona gave hospitality to the children of poor families, sons of the peasants in the north east, where the economic development hadn’t arrived yet. Until the middle of the 1980s, it represented an international model, but in the gloomy building at Chievo, half way between a seminary and a jail, terrible episodes have allegedly happened.
Only now, heartened by the words of condemnation pronounced by pope Ratzinger against pedophile priests, tens of former guests have found the force to come out in the open and denounce their dramatic experience: “ Priests and religious brothers have sexually abused us”. An accusation was underwritten by more than 60 persons, children of both sexes, who lived in the Instituion, and who now write: “We have overcome our fear and reticence”.
The alleged abuses they are referring to went on for 30 years, until 1984. They are ready to make a long list of victims and witnesses, but because of the statute of limitations those who committed those crimes can’t anymore be tried in a court. The deaf mute people who are bearing this drama affirm however of not being interested in the trials or in compensation money. In their writing they say they want to avoid other persons being put at the same risk of being subjected to the same violence: about ten of the priests they are accusing are now old, but still active in the Institution, in the offices of Verona and Chievo. For such a reason, after having informed the bishop of Verona and the higher ups of the Institution, 15 former students sent this magazine their testimony – filmed and in writing – about their experience. The documents are upsetting, and they could give a glimpse about one of the gravest cases of pedophilia in Italy: they refer to 25 priests and the victims could be about one hundred.
The former students, notwithstanding their impairments, were able to find a way to go on with their lives, keeping within themselves the traces of the horror. After the explosion of the scandals in USA which forced the church to face the problems of pedophilia, and the severe stand by Pope Benedict XVI, they, too, decided not to hide anything. They met in the premises of the Association Antonio Provolo and then they went to the curia and to the people who are responsible for the Institution. One of their last letters was addressed to monsignor Giampietro Mazzono, the judicial vicary, that’s the magistrate of the ecclesiastical tribunal of the dioceses of Verona. It was November 20th, 2008. “ The deaf people decided to inform His Eminence the Bishop what had happened. In the room serving as a confessional in the church of Santa Maria del Pianto in the Institution of Provolo, some priests took the opportunity to touch and be masturbated by the female deaf children and boys (the door was then always locked up).
The sodomite acts happened in the dormitory, in the priests’ rooms and in the lavatories both in the Institute Provolo in Verona and at Chievo. Besides that, during the summer camps, the episodes occurred in Villa Cervi di San Zeno di Montagna”. In addition to that: “As it wasn’t enough, the deaf children and boys were mistreated and beaten up, sometimes even using a stick. The deaf persons can name the priests and the lay brothers involved in those actions and offer their testimony”. There follow the signatures of 67 former students.
The authors of the charges cite a list of episodes even longer, which starts in the 1950s. They describe half a century of tortures, even under the altar, in the confessional, inside the most sacred places.
Those children are now in the average between 50 and 70 years old: the youngest will be 41 years old in a few days. Someone says he was subjected to the mistreatments even before he was 18. The abuses, they recount, happened even when they were in a group, under the shower. The scenes were horrifying, impressed in their memory.
Giuseppe recalls: “Three little boys and three priests were masturbating each other under the shower”. But the most upsetting story is the one narrated by Bruno, now sixty-years-old, who at the end of the 1950s was considered the handsomest in the class. And only now he is able to speak about the nightmare which has been tormenting him: “ I became deaf when I was eight, the year after I started attending the Provolo Institution until I was fifteen. After three months from my entering the school and until I quit I was the object of sexual attention, sodomized and forced to have all kinds of sexual intercourse by the following priests and brothers.” There follows a list of 16 names. Among which, a high prelate, very famous in Verona: two priests of the Provolo allegedly accompanied Bruno in the ecclesiastical building.
“It was the year 1959, I was 11. He sodomized me and asked for other sexual plays. It was a terrible experience which in my adulthood created serious psychological problems.”
Another former pupil. Guido, declares having been sexually molested by a priest: “ It happened in his room at the top of the building. And he forced me to do the same things at Villa Cervi, during the summer camps, and at the camping over the Lake of Garda”. Carlo remained in that Institution until he was between 7 and 18 and he also refers to another priest: “ He often punished me by making me kneel for hours in a corner and beat me up (violent slaps in the face and being beaten with a stick ) and have sexual intercourse with him”. Sometimes he hit my hands with a stick, while during the night ‘ in the big dormitory where I was with the other deaf boys often he woke me up to fetch me in the bathroom, where he sodomized me or forced me to masturbate him. I have never forgotten”.
The storie are all similar. Tragedies lived by children of poor families, hit by deafness and the ending up in the walls of that Institution; dramas kept secret for decades. Ermanno recounts: “ The violence happened in the bathrooms and in the rooms of the Provolo Institution and the adjacent church, too.” “ If I refused, then I was threatened to get a bad mark in behavior, these episodes are always coming to my mind” writes another former student.
Sometimes Giuseppe has met in Verona the priest who made violence to him. "Even now, when I see him I’m am very agitated. I was never able to forget”. According to the charges, the victims are above all little boys. But there are also episodes witnessed by the girls. Lina is now fifty, and she was in “the deaf and mute Institution between the age of 6 and 17. When she was 13, in the church, during confession face to face (there was no railing), the priest touched my breasts many times. I remember his name very well. I was very frightened and I didn’t confess since then”. Giovanna writes that another priest “ took out his member and asked me to touch him”. For many girls those things took place in the church of the Istitution , under the altar. Some of the girls, however, made even a worse experience.
Today the Institution Antonio Provolo has changed completely its structure and mission. The initiatives for the supporting of the deaf and mute have been diminished and the Veneto region government is sharing the financing. Now the main activity is the educational and vocational schools, run entirely by lay teachers, which also offers courses for the unemployed. At the highest level there are the priests of the Congregazione della Compagnia di Maria for the education of the deaf mute students, which respond directly to the Holy See. The former students asked the Congregazione to get rid of those priests responsible of the abuses. According to their Association, “Some of those priests have already admitted their responsibility”. The most important was made in 2006 when the Rev. Danilo Corradi, superior general of the Provolo Institution, met with more than 50 former students. According to the former students association, the superior asked for twelve times the pardon on behalf of the institution for the sexual abuses committed by the clergy. Those who witnessed the meeting say it was very dramatic: the Rev. Corradi shrinking his head in his hands, sweating, asking for pardon, kneels down. But the deaf mute former students asked for the firing of the accused priests, to no avail. The Rev. Danilo Corradi gives us a different account: “ I heard some rumors, but I only came in 2003 and I have no idea of what happened before. I can’t answer for those accusations, I don’t know who is making them: we’ll answer after having read your article”.
The former students have also made their appeal to the Verona Curia two years ago, giving the information during some meetings. The Chairman of the Association for the deaf Antonio Provolo, Giorgio Dalla Bernardina, says there were three meetings, one of which was attended by 52 people. He writes to the bishop: “Notwithstanding our meetings in the Curia, during which we above all brought the attention to the pedophilic acts and sexual abuses upon the deaf and mute former students in the years in which they were in the Institution, we didn’t receive any answer to our requests”. The last letter was sent on December 8, 2008. A few months before, in September, they had made one of the many attempts, sending a certified letter to the bishop of Verona, monsignor Giuseppe Zenti. There was no answer, “notwithstanding his assurances for his intervention”. The letter had been signed by three associations for the deaf: The Association for the deaf Antonio Provolo, the Association for the hearing impaired Provolo, the Association for the deaf Basso Veronese-Legnago.
(January 22, 2009)