Pope Faces Fresh Wave of Child Abuse Scandals in Italy

By Tom Kington and Henry McDonald
The Observer
March 28, 2010

UNITED KINGDOM -- The head of the Catholic church is bracing himself for a new round of allegations by victims of paedophile priests — in Italy

Pope Benedict XVI is facing growing pressure over his handling of paedophile priests as new cover-ups come to light in Italy, the country with the greatest concentration of Roman Catholic clerics.

After the latest allegations – that Benedict took no action in the US when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's enforcer – the church is now "terrified" as more victims stand up to be counted in Italy, according to Roberto Mirabile, head of La Caramella Buona, an Italian anti-abuse group. "With the scandals erupting abroad, we will see a huge growth in victims' groups in Italy in coming weeks," said Mirabile yesterday. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict handled abuse cases at the Vatican for 24 years before he became pope in 2005.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger handled abuse cases for 24 years before becoming Pope Benedict XVI.
Photo by Max Rossi

"We are likely to discover that the Vatican worked even harder in Italy with bishops than elsewhere to hide cases, simply because the contact was closer and the church is so powerful in Italy," Mirabile added.

Sergio Cavaliere, an Italian lawyer who has documented 130 cases of clerical paedophilia, also believes that the Vatican's backyard could follow Ireland, the United States and Germany in producing a wave of abuse revelations. "The cases I have found are just the tip of the iceberg given the reluctance of many victims to come forward until now," said Cavaliere. "And in no single case did the local bishop alert police to the suspected abuse."

Another startling development is how recent most of the allegations are, unlike the decades-old cases in Munich and Milwaukee that Benedict was last week accused of failing to act on.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who investigates abuse accusations passed on to the Vatican, denied this month that abuse had reached "dramatic proportions" in Italy, but he was concerned about "a certain culture of silence" among Italy's 50,000 priests.

In February, the Vatican opened an investigation into allegations by 67 former pupils at a school for the deaf in Verona that 24 priests, brothers and lay religious men abused pupils from the 1950s to the 1980s. Three of the accusers repeated their claims on Italian prime-time television on Friday.

In a case recalling the accusations against Father Lawrence Murphy in Milwaukee, who was claimed to have abused up to 200 deaf children, one Italian former pupil claimed that priests had sodomised him so relentlessly that he came to feel "as if I were dead".

A second pupil has accused Verona's late bishop, Monsignor Giuseppe Carraro, who is being considered for beatification, of molesting him.

In Ireland, the leader of the Catholic church has been named in more than 200 civil actions by victims of alleged clerical abuse, putting him under further pressure to resign. The victims claim that Cardinal Seán Brady failed in his duties by neglecting to protect them from paedophile priests and other sex abusers. There is no suggestion that he took part in any abuse.

Legal sources in the republic confirmed that 230 separate victims of alleged clerical abuse are taking the church to court. They said these include five victims of Father Brendan Smyth, one of Ireland's most notorious paedophiles.

Smyth's arrest and conviction opened the floodgates for dozens of cases concerning priests abusing children in dioceses all over Ireland, alongside widespread and systemic abuse in church-run orphanages and industrial schools.

Brady has confirmed that he was present at a closed canonical tribunal into the activities of Smyth, who died in jail 13 years ago while serving 12 years for 74 sexual assaults on children.

"Smyth's victims will argue that the church knew as far back as 1975 that he was abusing children. But the hierarchy's secret deal with two of his young victims that year left Smyth free to abuse others many years afterwards," one senior legal source told the Observer.

"The cardinal now faces being named in hundreds of cases, some of which will go through the courts."

Asked if the church was aware that Brady had been named in so many civil actions through the Irish courts, a spokesman for the Catholic Press Office in Ireland said: "The bishop who occupies the position of primate of all Ireland [Brady] is often named as co-defendant in judicial proceedings by people who mistakenly presume him to be the 'CEO' for the Catholic church in Ireland. In answer to your query, I do not know the exact number of cases taken by alleged victims of clerical sex abuse who have named Cardinal Seán Brady in their actions."

Voice of the Faithful, an international lay Catholic organisation campaigning for reforms in the church, said it was "deeply significant" that Brady has said he is spending the run-up to Easter reflecting on his position.

Seán O'Connaill, the group's Irish co-ordinator, said: "The situation regarding the church in Ireland and Cardinal Brady's position is very confused and fluid.

"The problems facing the Catholic church, however, will not be resolved alone by heads rolling. Both the people and the leadership have to realise that there has to be a major reform programme within the church to turn this around."


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