|Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Italy
Tradition in Action
September 1, 2008
In Italy there is/was a glass ceiling for the people who view the clergy as living on a higher story, carrying out their affairs far above their heads and all reproach. The people dared not criticize and take action against the clergy, no matter how bad the circumstances. This situation is changing with the increasing number of pedophile scandals showing how corrupt many priests are and how many Bishops and Cardinals are covering for them. Action is being taken to protect families. The one door left open to preserve some justice and morality in society is the appeal to the civil courts, as happened in the U.S.
In these last few months of 2008, many priests have been sent to jail by Italian judges for their crimes of pedophilia. Included in this number are Fr. Giorgio Carli of the Diocese of Bologna, sentenced to 7 ? years; Fr. Mauro Stefanoni, of the Diocese of Como, sentenced to 8 years, and Fr. Pierangelo Bertagna of Cortona, who received 8 years (Adista, July 12, 2008).
Something rotten in Florence…
A recent case, still under scrutiny, came to light June 27, when the Florentine newspapers reported the case of an alleged victim of Fr. Roberto Berti, a priest of that Diocese. Quite curiously, two days before, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli had presided over a religious ceremony during which he led the applause for Fr. Berti on his ordination anniversary. The ceremony was the farewell service for the Cardinal, who was leaving his position as Archbishop of Florence to go to Rome as a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family. This took place on June 25.
On June 27, a 22-year-old man, Stefano Brogioni, publicly accused Fr. Berti of having sexually abused him when he was 14. The victim had filled a lawsuit against him the day before. According to the newspaper Il Firenze (June 28, 2008), by 2001 five minors had already claimed they were sexual victims of Berti and had asked the diocesan authority to punish their alleged predator. The curia promised to take the proper measures, but the canonical process froze. Card. Antonelli himself supposedly met the victims’ families telling them to drop the accusations in order “not to cause scandal.”
Il Firenze reports that Rome may well have promoted Card. Antonelli to remove him from the leadership of the Archdiocese of Florence, where recent sexual scandals are rocking the Church’s credibility. What are these cases? Let me uncover the tip of the iceberg.
Last year, around 20 women accused Fr. Lelio Cantini, an 82-year-old parish priest of Florence, of having raped them when they were minors, from ages 12 to 17. The alleged victims wrote to the diocesan tribunal as well as to the Pope, asking due punishment for the abuser. Confronted by their testimony, the church authorities first transferred the priest to another parish, and then out of the diocese.
After the process, where the accusations were proved true, Card. Antonelli issued the punishment for the priest on April 2, 2007. He was suspended from any ministry for five years. The Cardinal praised his sentence as being “exemplary,” and noted how he was only able to reach such a decision because of the “seriousness, dedication and fidelity of Bishop Maniago,” who is the Auxiliary Bishop of Florence (Corriere della Sera, September 18, 2007, La Stampa, September 18, 2007).
In the meantime, however, five witnesses - including two priests – sought out the Public Procurator of the city to tell a different story about Bishop Claudio Maniago. They affirmed that he was the “spiritual son” and favorite disciple of Fr. Lelio Cantini, the accused priest. This Bishop was perfectly aware of all the priest’s wrongdoings and had covered for them. Along with these accusations, others surfaced. Bishop Maniago himself allegedly was involved in sadomasochist orgies. Indeed, corroborating those accusations, on April 21, 2007, a homosexual male prostitute, P.C., gave a report to the judicial authority stating that 10 years earlier, he had placed an ad in a newspaper offering his sexual services for “sado-maso” encounters. He was contacted by a man who made an appointment. When they met, the man presented himself as Fr. Andrea. The supposed priest took him to a nearby parish residence where there was a back bedroom. Another alleged priest, Fr. Mauro, was already there with two other male prostitutes. They had “a group encounter,” as P.C. put it.
The next day they met again, and the priest told the group they were waiting for “the boss.” When “the boss” came they had another orgy. P.C. affirmed that he recognized the boss as being Bishop Claudio Maniago from his photos in the newspapers. Those sexual encounters were repeated until 2003. Then, according to La Stampa, Maniago allegedly threatened P.C., ordering silence. He also gave him money from his bank account, a claim the authorities have verified as true. The investigation is ongoing.
Bishop Claudio Maniago is still Auxiliary Bishop in Florence and was a close collaborator of Card. Antonelli. After the latter left Florence, Il Firenze let us know that Maniago is also packing.
Pedophile grime in Rome
The most recent and similarly clamorous case was the arrest by the civil justice of Fr. Ruggero Conti of the Diocese Porto Santa Rufina, a suburbicarian [under the direct authority] of Rome. Fr. Conti was parish priest of the Nativity of the Most Holy Virgin Mary Church, at the extreme west of Rome. He is also very involved in politics, giving key support to present day mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno, who called Conti “his guarantee” in his pro-family politics.Fr. Conti is accused of being a pedophile by another priest of the same parish, Fr. Claudio Bricchetto. To substantiate his charges, Fr. Bricchetto has a full dossier on Fr. Conti, including evidence of sexual abuses of minors, taped phone calls of Conti explicitly inviting minors for sexual relations, pedophile pornographic files from his computer, invitations for boys to go to the parish rectory, seduction of boys in exchange for gifts.
Fr. Bricchetto went to the Bishop of Porto Santa Rufina and denounced the pedophile crimes of Fr. Ruggiero Conti. Fr. Conti received a small reprimand and was removed from his parish functions for one month. Then everything continued on the same. Everyone knew and all were silent, affirms Adista (July 12, 2008). Instead of seeing the guilty priest punished, it was Fr. Bricchetto who was first isolated and then suspended. In view of these facts, he went to Caramella Buona, a lay organization that combats pedophilia. From there his dossier reached the police.
After many months of investigation and interrogation of witnesses, seven cases of minors who claim to have suffered sexual violence by Conti were verified. However, more recently, on August 8, the civil court affirmed that it is dealing with "an impressive number of cases of abuse of minors." Fr.Conti is answering to the ongoing process in prison. He was arrested on June 29.
Mayor Alemanno said he was “very sorry” about the priest’s imprisonment, but he asked the judges and justice officials to show complete impartiality in this case, “making no favors to anyone.”
This is the recent news from Florence and Rome. Yes, Rome, which is under the eyes of Benedict XVI himself, since he is also the Bishop of Rome. He should have a very clear picture of what is going on in his immediate jurisdiction. When he came to the US, he told us that a pedophile priest would never be kept in the ministry. Those were undoubtedly beautiful words. We are still waiting for practical consequences to come from them.
Some will try to excuse him, saying that he is very busy and hasn’t had time to deal with the matter. I am skeptical about this kind of excuse. But now, with Italy and Rome shown to be saturated with pedophilia as well, why doesn’t he exercise his promised severe measures there?
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