La Croix International [France]
May 31, 2022
By Xavier Le Normand
Catholic bishops in Italy say their investigation of clergy sex abuse will be independent, but its scope will be limited and based solely on the Church’s archives
“We have nothing to fear from telling the truth.”
That was Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s message to the Catholic bishops of Italy as he encouraged them to shed light on the past regarding clergy sex abuse.
The Boston cardinal, who is also the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, addressed the bishops on May 23 at the opening session of their plenary assembly.
The message seems to have been heard, but also received with great caution.
In its final statement on the last day of the assembly, the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) announced two measures of transparency on the issue of abuse.
The first is the publication of a “national report on prevention activities and on the abuse cases reported and denounced to the diocesan services network”.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, the CEI’s new president, promised journalists attending a press conference at the end of the bishops’ meeting that this national report will be published annually.
But public attention has been focused much more sharply on the second measure the bishops’ announced, with regards to past instances of abuse.
The Italian bishops promised to “launch an analysis of the data on presumed or proven crimes perpetrated by clerics in Italy during the period 2000-2021 and handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”.
They assured that the analysis would be “independent” and conducted by researchers.
Neither minimizing nor amplifying
However, this should not be seen as the Italian equivalent of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) that was set up in France.
First of all, the period is much more limited. The CIASE leader Jean-Marc Sauvé and his collaborators went back to the 1950s. The Italian researchers will only look at the last 20 years.
Cardinal Zuppi justified the more limited time frame by saying that the period “involves us directly”.
He warned against the risk of “judging with today’s criteria something that happened 80 years ago, which was judged at the time with different criteria”.
Another major difference with the Italian inquiry is that it is not expected to include statistical studies as the CIASE report did. That resulted in the unexpectedly large estimate of 216,000 victims of French priests over seven decades.
“As we have seen in France, some of the figures may be questionable. We don’t want to be controversial,” warned Cardinal Zuppi.
“We must avoid the risk of minimizing, but also that of amplifying,” said the CEI’s new president.
It will therefore be necessary to make do with a study based on the archives of the local dioceses and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to which all cases of pedocriminality have theoretically been submitted since the early 2000s.
“There is no desire not to give the numbers, there is no fear,” Cardinal Zuppi insisted. He added that the “qualitative is as important as the quantitative”.
“No moral prescription”
Attending Zuppi’s press conference was Francesco Zanardi, a victim of priest-sexual abuse who is now president of Rete l’Abuso (the Abuse Network).
His network has set up a database of abuse cases and he pointed out to the cardinal that many such cases have never been reported to either civil or canonical justice.
The cardinal said he was “willing” to receive information on such cases, claiming that, “for us, the moral prescription does exist”.
The issue of possible compensation for victims was also raised and the CEI president said that was still a “very open” question.
“We will accept our responsibilities,” he vowed. “But in fact, we have already accepted them.”
He said there is no “resistance” among Italy’s bishops to facing abuse within the Church. It’s just that they put “different accents” on how to deal with it.