Italian bishops meet with abuse victims as survivors unveil memorial

Crux [Denver CO]

March 1, 2024

By Elise Ann Allen

ROME – Earlier this week the leadership of the Italian bishops’ conference met with a group of clerical abuse survivors and their family members, days after the country’s largest victims advocacy group inaugurated a new memorial.

In a Feb. 27 statement, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, president of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI), said, “The voice of those who have suffered abuse remains essential to help us understand in depth the pain experienced by victims and their families, and their wounds, to enter into authentic communion with those who have suffered.”

Listening to survivors is also essential to understanding what is expected from the church, he said, asking, “what has been missing? What can be done to improve?”

“It is also from the answer to these questions that the path of prevention and protection can progress every day with significant and meaningful steps,” he said.

Zuppi met with the group of survivors and family members of victims earlier that day alongside Archbishop Giuseppe Baturi of Cagliari, secretary general of CEI, and Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Ravenna-Cervia, president of the national service for the protection of minors.

Tuesday’s meeting, which lasted roughly three hours, was characterized by “active listening in which, in sharing and dialogue, those necessary and substantial elements that can and must be included, improved and strengthened for increasingly effective prevention and an even more warm welcome, were highlighted.”

It follows a similar conversation held last May, which was also attended by Zuppi, Baturi, and Ghizzoni, as well as survivors, their family members, and pastoral workers engaged in church activities in both the recent and distant past.

Vincenzo Corrado, a spokesman for CEI, last May said these meetings marked an important time for victims to share their stories as well as their desire to assist the church in ensuring “that these episodes are not repeated” and that church entities and institutions are better able to protect children and vulnerable adults.

“Listening to and welcoming victims constitutes an important line of action for the Church,” Corrado said.

However, despite CEI’s efforts to meet with survivors, the Italian church has been broadly condemned by victims and advocacy groups for failing to do more to address the issue nationally and to compensate victims.

In November 2022, CEI released their first-ever report on national safeguarding efforts, revealing nearly 100 new and old cases documented in the two years prior, but sharing few details about these incidents.

The report, which covered cases identified in the timeframe of 2020-2021, found that 89 complaints had been made against 68 alleged abusers.

Slightly over half of these 89 cases involved recent or current abuse, which many observers consider a significantly high number, given that these complaints were made through diocesan-run listening centers established in dioceses throughout Italy for the specific purpose of receiving abuse reports.

Baturi at the time said the Vatican in the archives of the Dicastery from the Doctrine of the Faith also holds 613 files from Italian dioceses containing abuse complaints dating back to 2000.

Apart from some generic parameters about the form of abuse and the age and genders of both the abusers and the victims in CEI’s 2022 report, no other details were offered on the priests or individuals involved, and no information was provided on whether civil or canonical proceedings had been initiated, or what the outcome of these proceedings were, if they had begun.

For months prior to the report’s publication, a network of survivor advocacy groups united under the social media hashtag #ItalyChurchToo were pushing CEI to do a more in-depth analysis, as other countries throughout Europe and the west have done.

Countries such as the United States, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain and Portugal have contracted independent third parties to make a national inquiry into abuse going back decades, publishing reports that often contain damning numbers of both abusers and victims, yet Italy has yet to make such an inquiry.

While dioceses in many other countries have also begun publishing the names priests credibly accused of abuse in their ecclesiastical jurisdiction, no Italian diocese has yet taken this step.

In a statement following the publication of the 2022 report, Francesco Zanardi, who established and runs Italy’s primary victims association, Rete L’Abuso (Abuse Network), called the two-year timeframe of the report “a joke.”

“Sixty-eight abusers in just two years indicates that there is a problem, but the timeframe of the report is a joke and excludes a bunch of figures,” Zanardi said, calling the report “shamefully inadequate.”

Zanardi, who has said he himself is a victim of clerical abuse, has not weighed in on CEI’s most recent meeting with abuse survivors, but on Feb. 24 he inaugurated a new memorial, a purple bench, honoring clerical abuse survivors in the Italian city of Savona.

Local civic officials joined in the inauguration ceremony, marking the installation of the first in what is expected to be a series of purple benches throughout Italy drawing attention to the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

Zanardi in the ceremony praised the city of Savona for its solidarity with victims and its efforts to protect those at risk, however, he said more must be done.

In a statement released after the event, Rete L’Abuso said a purple bench, while raising awareness, “does not save children and does not cure those who have been abused.”

“It must serve as a symbol to adults, to civil society, to those who can or must protect minors or vulnerable persons, to not close their eyes, to not look the other way, but to intervene,” the statement said.

Rete L’Abuso said Italy is still “far behind” other countries in taking action and in coming to terms with the abuse crisis, saying the difficulties in facing the phenomenon are because “it scares us, because it embarrasses us, because we don’t consider it our problem to intervene in cases of violence, all too often forgetting that we are the eyes and ears of those in difficulty.”

“We are the ones who must civilly protect ourselves, starting with our children, our grandchildren, our loved ones, by doing prevention and reporting,” the network said.

Victims cannot be expected to do this for themselves, as they often lack both the resources and the strength to do so, the statement said, saying they need help from others and to know they are not alone.

The purple bench project is sponsored by Rete L’Abuso, the Ending Clergy Abuse Justice Project, and the Italy church Too Italian coordination project. Installments of other benches are expected to occur in the coming weeks in other cities throughout Italy, including Enna in Sicily, and Rome, among others.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen