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Press release Beyond the great silence – #ItalyChurchToo

Coordinamento delle associazioni contro gli abusi nella Chiesa cattolica in Italia

#ItalyChurchToo – “Good morning to all, I am Ludovica Eugenio, head of the religious information weekly Adista, and I thank you on behalf of all the members of the coordination for your presence at this important moment.
This is an important moment because since in an unprecedented step in Italy, some associations and bodies, both catholic and non catholic, each from its own angle and relying on its own resources, decided to join together in the fight against clerical abuses in the Catholic Church. This new body is an expression of the most aware and committed Catholic laity, of the most active survivors associations, and of some magazines whose information is meant to be a service to citizenship and an instrument of transformation.

I’d like to emphasize that the original impetus to create a Coordination as an instrument of pressure and expression of the will to help break down the wall of silence that has so far protected the direct and indirect perpetrators of abuse and encouraged the invisibility of the victims, came from a female sensitivity, from groups of women involved in various capacities in the Catholic Church and outside it, and has been woven in a horizontal and collegial, participatory, non-hierarchical way, with the sole priority of giving voice to the victims and urgently requesting that the tools be put in place to ensure that no person should ever have to cross this abyss again.

Exactly twenty years ago, in January 2002, the Boston Globe in the USA published the Spotlight investigation, which represents the moment of public emergence of the phenomenon of abuse in the catholic Church. Since then, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the problem, awareness has grown, both in the public opinion and in the institutions, and in many countries around the world, effective action has been taken with inquiries and independent commissions of inquiry, which alone have been able to overcome the Church’s resistance to acknowledge its own institutional failure, both in terms of the number of cases and the cover-up and mismanagement by the hierarchies; In France, Germany, Ireland, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and the Netherlands, to name but a few, they have succeeded in providing a plausible, though never exhaustive, picture of a phenomenon that has increasingly revealed its systemic character. A character that has its roots in clerical culture, in a misunderstood image of the clergy as a sacred and untouchable class, in the attempt of the hierarchy to protect the institution at the expense of the victims, whose lives have often been irreversibly devastated. Investigations are now underway in Portugal, Switzerland, and even in Spain something has been set in motion.

In Italy, this has not yet happened. Our country is practically the only one in which the Church and secular institutions have never wanted to carry out a nationwide investigation to shed light on a criminal phenomenon that is known to be widespread throughout the Peninsula.

So far, no independent investigation and research initiative has been undertaken that could provide objective data, the first step towards a practice of justice to which the victims and their families are entitled in the first place, but also the members of the Christian community, and the citizens. This is why associations and bodies of the Catholic world and beyond, different in history, aims and actions, but united in the attention to those who are victims of abuse and injustice within the Catholic Church, have decided to work together to promote concrete requests, urging the Catholic Church to make a change of mindset and to shed light on the past, to look reality in the face regardless of the damage of image, taking responsibility for abuses, cover-ups and abandonment of victims, left without hearing and without compensation.

Now, I give the floor to the various components of the Coordination that will go into detail about the objectives, beginning with Paola Lazzarini, president of  Donne per la Chiesa (Women for the Church)”

Paola Lazzarini

“As the Coordination against Abuse in the Catholic Church in Italy, we ask that the Italian Bishops Conference entrusts an independent commission as soon as possible with an investigation on the abuses committed within the Church.

We ask that the commission be chaired by a person of exemplary integrity and independence from the parties involved.

We ask that it be an investigation uniting the efforts of various high-level professionals and that it use qualitative and quantitative methods, documental analysis (for which all archives of dioceses, convents and monasteries must be opened) and new channels for listening to the victims.

We ask that this survey be conducted exclusively on the abuse inside the Italian Catholic Church, so as not to make the results indefinite, but rather to represent a working model on such a complex and delicate issue that can then be replicated, with appropriate adjustments, for other institutions and educational agencies (families, schools, the world of sports and volunteer work).

We ask that this survey address the critical issue of the lack of tertiarity of diocesan centers for the protection of minors, elaborating an alternative proposal for the prevention of future abuse within the Church.

For the purpose of prevention, our coordination proposes first of all the adoption, by all ecclesial structures, of the anti-pedophilia certificate for priests, religious and volunteers (see Decree March 4, 2014 on the fight against the sexual abuse and exploitation of minors and child pornography).

We also ask that victims and their families be compensated for the harm they have suffered, while being aware that no amount of compensation will ever make up for the suffering inflicted.

These requests are intended to align the work of the Italian Church with that of other Bishops Conferences and individual dioceses, sweeping away any doubts regarding the reticence that the Italian episcopate might have regarding the emergence of the whole truth (however painful) that lies beneath the already significant number of known cases. The Catholic Church is a hierarchical church, in which the chain of command is very clear, and yet, when it comes to abuse, personal responsibilities become vague. This should no longer happen, and not out of any justicialistic fervor, but out of a correct assumption of the consequences of one’s own actions, to which we are all called.

As baptized men and women, believers, mothers, fathers, educators, professionals, citizens we need to see the Italian Church compactly oriented to an operation without shadows and without discounts”.

Francesco Zanardi, presidente of Rete L’Abuso

“Rete L’Abuso, with 1,400 cases active for 12 years, is the only existing data observatory in Italy. It’s a long and difficult work, which would not have been up to us, costing to me dozens of lawsuits. In the current legal vacuum, though, we had to take on the commitment, in order to protect other people. Today we are representatives for Italy of ECA Global, which is present in 42 countries, and recognized at the United Nations.

Recent cases of abuse demonstrate how the Pope’s recent efforts (with “Vos estis lux mundi”) have proved futile: bishops do not obey laws but are not punished. Weak laws have
favored the transfer of pedophiles to Italy. A church commission, even if perfect, is no longer credible.We need an independent one that ensures impartiality. The accused cannot also be the judge.
In Italy the situation is complex compared to other countries; El Pais has collected in Spain 250
cases in 7 decades, and the judiciary has opened an independent investigation. In Italy the database of the Rete L’Abuso has collected 360 cases in 15 years. State intervention is needed. The CIASE Report in France speaks of 216,000 victims and 3,000 priests involved; in France there are 22,000 priests and in Italy 52,000. If it’s true that the world average percentage of paedophile priests is 7-8%, it means that the cases in Italy could be one million. It is necessary to adapt the laws.
Instances have been made to the State and the UN, but the number of investigations and prosecutions of the judiciary is very low.
If the victim doesn’t fall within the statute of limitations, no investigation is opened and prevention is skipped. It is also necessary to extend the anti-pedophilia certificate to everyone, so that it can be applied to all the volunteers working in close contact with minors.
The current statute of limitations is not adequate to the process of maturation of the trauma by the victim; therefore we ask the lawmakers to make it possible for every citizen to report, from the parish priest to the catechist to anyone who has concerns. It would already already help, it would be a turning point. Paradoxically, this solution would solve problems posed by Lateran Pacts (1929) such as Art. 4. Todat, should the pope introduce the obligation to report for the Italian bishops, they would not know how to proceed.
It is also necessary to implement reparations and rehabilitation programs for victims. Counseling centers set up by dioceses do not comply with the Lanzarote Convention, which also provides that the victim, when is heard in a court of law, including diocesan courts, must be accompanied by a doctor, who can also attest to his/her reliability. In diocesan courts, lawyers are not even brought in”.

Cristina Balestrini  – Comitato Vittime e famiglie

“My name is Cristina Balestrini and I represent the Victims and Families Committee, a section of the Association Rete L’ABUSO.

The Committee was born a few years ago, timidly, with the mission to give voice to what is part of the tragedy of pedophilia: the victims and their families. In addition to being the mother of a survivor, Catholic and practicing, within the Association Rete L’ABUSO I have expressed my willingness to listen to and to support the parents of other survivors, with the knowledge that only those who have been through it can deeply understand what a family who has suffered this drama  lives.

In fact, what does not emerge from the news is the aftermath, the fatigue of carrying a boulder that is not resolved after the act of violence. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – from which all victims of sexual abuse suffer even if undiagnosed – is not a walk in the park: it affects the present and the future, and must be treated with expertise and a lot of patience and love.

The Catholic Church, at least in Italy, has no competence in the management of abuse, neither from a “legal” point of view (to obtain that this does not happen anymore, by stopping the priest, denouncing him, helping him to deal responsibly with the crime he has committed), nor to obtain justice and compensation to the victim who has suffered damage, nor from a psychological point of view to offer support to victims. All this can be witnessed by every victim, every family, every person who shows intellectual honesty in delving into this drama. The Church does not protect the victims, indeed, and in civil courts, the Church defends the priest, not the victims: it stands
on the other side. We have had to face this.

From a psychological point of view, the victims are turned away by the Church and I’m saying this with great pain, as a Catholic. Our parish priest invited us “not to bite the hand that feeds you”. We replied that we have been trying for ten years to empty the dish from the vomit…”

Erik Zattoni, 40, is the son of the pedophile rapist priest Pietro Tosi, who died in 2014.

“My mother was raped at the age of 14 by Don Pietro Tosi, I was born from that rape. Despite the

threats my mother reported Don Tosi, to Bishop Franceschi first (“Don’t tell anyone about what happened, it would be a great scandal for the church” was the answer), then to the authorities. As a result, my family was evicted from home, wich was a property of the diocese; in 2010, after years, Don Tosi was taken to court. The DNA test and his confession confirmed that he was my biological father” but despite this, he kept on being a priest until September 2012 (when he retired). There have been 3 popes, 5 bishops, some prefects of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.

Ratzinger was prefect of CDF when in 1985 the Vatican sent a lawyer to my mother to “calm things down”) and this gentleman died as a priest. A request for a meeting with Pope Francis fell on deaf ears: the pope was the only person who could punish Don Tosi by dismissing him from the clerical state, as the crime of sexual abuse was beyond the statute of limitations, but I had no answer. Finally, as someone from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told me, “he’s a priest and he’ll die as a priest”. We need to take strong action against these people, we need facts, otherwise nothing will ever change. I am not a victim, my mother is, and I read it in her eyes every day, her life has not been the same since that moment. Sometimes I’m ashamed to let her see me because I know I remind her of that moment, I know I’m a son of a rape. I consider myself an indirect victim, it is important to let people know that we are there, it is important not to forget us”.

Antonio Messina

“I was abused between 2009 and 2013, with a psychological coercion which is often difficult to recognize. I came out on my own, with the support of my family. As soon as the year after,

I reported what I had endured from Don Giuseppe Rugolo, who at the time was a seminarian but who perpetrated abuses also later, as a priest. I spoke to the parish priest, but he did not believe me, and I was subjected to a meeting with Rugolo himself.

I was undergoing a process of vocational discernment, during the years when I was abused; this was probably the element that allowed don Rugolo to approach me. I was also asked by another priest, Msgr. Vincenzo Murgano, who was my spiritual director, “to move away from my city, to forget”.

I turned to another parish priest, convinced that it is important to fight for the dream of a different

Church. He was the only one who helped mi to report everything to the bishop, Msgr. Rosario Gisana, who had already received complaints from other victims. I realized, though, that the Church is not able to deal with this problem. The bishop decided to remove the bishop from the diocese  first, then tried to buy my silence with a sum of money that came from the coffers of the diocesan Caritas, proposed in an unlawful manner, with off-the-books payments and a confidentiality clause to be signed. The priest was transferred to Ferrara where he continued to have contact with boys.

I could not live peacefully with the idea that other young people could experience what I had experienced. I could not live peacefully the idea that other young people could live what I had lived; no compensation may give back what has been taken away, and allow to fully recover one’s relational life and affections, but if we can make sure that this does not happen to others, these bad  these bad stories can at least serve to change something in the Church and in society.

The proceeding has already begun, next March the trial will also begin, but Bishop Gisana is still the bishop of the diocese; even if I informed him in 2018 that Msgr. Murgana had asked me “to

forget”, Murgana was nevertheless put in charge of the service of protection of minors of the diocese of Piazza Armerina, a position he still holds today despite the fact that not only his omertà (silence) has emerged, but also his direct involvement with the priest Rugolo who is now in Ferrara under home detention in the seminary – so not in isolation – , as interceptions have shown. We now hope to get justice”.

Federico Tulli – Left

“Left Magazine has always being focusing on the problem of child and women abuse. This week we’ll launch a database gathering the cases of child abuse in the Catholic Church in Italy, the first in our country realized by a magazine, in collaboration with Rete L’Abuso. This is to make up for the serious lack of a mapping of this criminal phenomenon, which has never been carried out either by the Church or by the State. It’s an unacceptable disregard from politicians and institutions for the safety and psychophysical health of children.

We have worked with primary sources, agency and journalistic sources, and we rely on the contribution of experts from various disciplines: lawyers, magistrates, psychiatrists, psychotherapists and even historians. In order to seriously address this scourge, it’s crucial to be clear, especially with the public, on what is pedophilia, on what are the roots of this widespread phenomenon not only in the Church but also in the secular society.

It will therefore be a real-time mapping, reports of new cases are coming in already, but it will also be a journey back in time too, to understand what pedophilia is and how to deal with it. Left provides maximum availability to contribute to the work of the Consortium”.

The press conference – which was also attended by Anne Soupa, president of the Comité de la

Jupe in Paris, an organization that fights for rights in the Church, and Marilde Iannotti of Voices of Faith, an organization active on the level of women’s rights in the Church and on the abuses of religious women – concluded with a final intervention by Marzia Benazzi (OIVD):

“We started with our sensitivity as women, already focusing abuse against women religious, persuaded that all aspects of abuse in the Church originate from a fundamental endemic condition: the dominant sexist and patriarchal vision. The wall of silence will be hard to break down. This Consortium brings together a plurality of claims, coming from experiences: among us, there are those who still believe that there can be a transformation in the Church, and those who don’t, in a

vision coming from life and suffering, but we are united by the determination to leave no stone unturned, because it is not an issue involving believing or not, but an issue of justice: we can’t accept that all this be clouded or denied anymore. In order to accomplish this aim, we need journalists as allies: we ask them to support us in this action because Italy is deaf, because of an arrogant obsequiousness to the clerical culture, and has never seen the birth of a true secular State. Keep high your attention, because secularity is best expressed in justice”.

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