News by email Donate


Top Stories

Most Read

Popular Videos

World News

Italy's Catholic Church faces pressure for independent abuse inquiry

by Reuters Journalist

At a trial underway in Sicily, a 28-year-old Italian is seeking justice against a man he accuses of forcing him to perform sex acts before going on to become a priest.  

The victim says the alleged abuse, was committed more than a decade ago when he was a minor and the accused was a seminarian leading youth groups, including forced masturbation and oral sex in sacristies and schoolrooms. The accused denies the charges.

The victim went to the police only after the Church failed to act on his accusations, which he spelled out to two priests and at a meeting with a bishop involving his parents. 

Victims' groups say there are thousands of similar cases hidden in Church archives, and they are increasing pressure for an independent investigation in Italy to mirror recent moves in France and Germany.  

Nine Italian groups have formed a consortium and on Tuesday will announce a campaign called "Beyond the Great Silence" and unveil a hashtag #ItalyChurchToo.

It aims to put public pressure on the Italian government to investigate past and present abuse in the Church or for the Church to commission an impartial investigation by outsiders.

The campaign is the latest move worldwide to force the Catholic Church to establish the full extent of sexual abuse by clergy that has cost it millions of dollars in compensation to victims.

"The state and the government have to take the initiative on this," Francesco Zanardi, the head of one of the groups, Rete l'Abuso (The Abuse Network), which tracks clerical abuse in Italy, told Reuters.

"If the Church investigates itself, its first objective will be to protect itself," said Zanardi, who is a victim of clergy sexual abuse.


The campaigners did not say how many sexual abuse crimes they suspect have been committed in Italy, but Rete l'Abuso has documented hundreds of such cases, most of them current or recent.

The German study, released in 2018, showed 1,670 clergymen abused 3,677 minors from 1946 to 2014. The French investigation released last year and covering seven decades said more than 200,000 children were abused in Catholic institutions.

Pope Francis has expressed shame at the Church's inability to deal with sexual abuse cases and said the Church must make itself a "safe home for everyone". Former Pope Benedict has acknowledged that errors occurred in handling sexual abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Munich and asked for forgiveness.

The results of an independent investigation going back decades could be devastating in Italy, where about 74% of the population are Catholic.

"The Church does not want this because it would be a powder keg," Zanardi said.

Bishops in Italy are divided over what type of investigation should be done. 

Some say the Church has the resources, such as diocesan anti-abuse committees, to do the work itself. 

Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, who favours an internal investigation, explained his position in a newspaper interview. Paola Lazzarini, head of Women in the Church, which is part of the consortium, told Reuters that Bassetti's position "does not satisfy us one bit".

Other bishops, including Erio Castellucci of Modena and Paolo Lojudice of Siena, have signaled support for commissioning an outside investigation.

Victims groups and some abuse experts within the Church have warned that an inside investigation will not be convincing.

"We can have the best intentions but as long as we do it in-house nobody is going to believe us," Father Hans Zollner, who heads the department of safeguarding and prevention of sexual abuse at Rome's Gregorian University, told Reuters.

A decision is due to be taken in May at a plenary to elect the new president of the Italian Bishops Conference because any investigation will be done during his five-year mandate.

A Monthly Gift Of $11 Makes A World Of Difference

In a world of fake news there’s never been a greater need for quality Christian journalism. Premier’s mission is to provide the Church with the most up to date and relevant news, told from a Christian perspective. But we can’t do it without you.

Unlike many websites we haven't put up a paywall — we want to keep our journalism free at the point of need and as open as we can. Premier’s news output takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. No one in the USA is sharing news like we are across radio, magazines and online so please help us to continue that today.

For a monthly gift of $11 or more we’d also be able to send you a free copy of the brand new Premier Bible, a wonderful Anglicised version of the NLT packed with exclusive bonus content, reading plan and resources to help you get the most out of scripture.

Your monthly support will make a world of difference. Thank you.

Support Us
Continue the conversation on our Facebook page

Related Articles

Sign up to our newsletter to stay informed with news from a Christian perspective.

News by email