Home News The Italian bishops choose reticence in the face of the abuse scandal – Francesco Peloso

The Italian bishops choose reticence in the face of the abuse scandal – Francesco Peloso

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The Italian bishops choose reticence in the face of the abuse scandal – Francesco Peloso

Twenty years ago the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors committed by priests erupted with clamor in the United States, prompting the country’s episcopate to draw up the first Charter for the protection of children and young people in the church; in the various points that made up the document there was talk, among other things, of the removal from the ministry of priests or deacons whose responsibility was ascertained and dioceses were asked to collaborate with the civil authorities, in the name of transparency, in cases of violence against minors .

Since then, a lot of water has passed under the bridge: the scandal spread first in the United States and then went around the world and is far from being closed. In the meantime, things have also changed in the Vatican: from the season of denialism and systematic cover-up, over the years we have come to promote policies for the protection of victims, collaboration with the judicial authorities of the various countries, reflection on the causes that are at the origin of the scandal: from the prevailing clericalism, understood as a defense of the institution at all costs, to the abuse of power and conscience.

All this at least in words, because then every law and regulation decided in Rome must be brought into the reality of thousands of dioceses spread across all continents and it goes without saying that internal “prudence” often prevails more than the search for the truth.

In this sense, the Italian church seems to have taken a particular “vow of silence”; in fact, it has distinguished itself in recent decades for a vocation to leave things as they are, trusting in the fact that, sooner or later, the issue would become one of the many unanswered practices of current events. But this did not happen, above all because the scandal engulfed the church in a plurality of countries, up to neighboring France.

Not only that, on several occasions the story has produced two types of reactions: firstly, the entrustment by the episcopal conferences themselves of a cognitive investigation of the phenomenon to external commissions, precisely to avoid the risk of unreliable judgments from the point of view historical and statistical; secondly, in various realities, the seriousness of the facts that emerged gave rise to an internal upheaval in the church with requests for important structural or doctrinal changes.

This is the case of France itself and above all of Germany (but something similar also happened in Australia, Austria, Belgium and elsewhere). Thus, in the end, even the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) had to address the problem, albeit reluctantly; the fear of the Italian bishops is great and it is easy to understand why: everywhere the scandal has brought to light cases of serious cover-ups of abuse of minors by the dioceses, consequently several bishops have been forced to resign and, where this has not happened , the personal credibility of some of them has been shattered.

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Recently, however, the CEI published a first, incomplete report on the abuses that took place in Italy: these are the cases received by the diocesan counseling centers, set up in recent times to demonstrate the willingness to tackle the problem, in the two-year period 2020-2021. A laughable period of time, moreover in the midst of the covid pandemic, during which 89 reports of abuses were received at 30 diocesan centers (it should be noted that there are 226 dioceses in Italy). Not even the complaints received by the judiciary or associations were taken into consideration by the report.

However, the CEI itself, presenting the survey data and perhaps realizing the scarce usefulness of the research for understanding the real extent of the phenomenon in Italy, announced a second survey on the basis of which it emerged that there would be around six hundred open files at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith relating to cases of sexual abuse in the Italian church in the last twenty years. These numbers are obviously far from the reality of the facts which, as all the surveys conducted in recent years in churches of different cultural traditions have shown, are unfortunately much more dramatic.

In this regard, Isabelle Cassarà, an official of the Vatican dicastery for the laity, family and life, observed in 2020 in a report entitled: “The dynamics of abuse in ecclesial realities. The role of power”, like “the impressive number of cases that have emerged and the extent of the phenomenon, clearly demonstrates that the problem of abuse in the church cannot be traced back simply to the presence of some ‘rotten apples’, but is rather the signal of a sick system, of land to be reclaimed”. He then added: “In fact, in considering the cases of abuse of competence of the aforementioned dicasteries of the Roman curia, it was clear that the cause of the serious crisis that the ecclesial realities involved were experiencing could not be found in the mere transgression of an individual, but was something more profound and structural: we became aware of the existence of a specific dynamic of abuse, a real life system with precise rules, which revealed unequivocally that sexual abuse had been favored and covered by a long succession of other abuses of power and conscience”.

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In short, the problem is not only statistical, indeed the reticence hides a general approach. The president of the National Service for the protection of minors and vulnerable people of the CEI, Monsignor Lorenzo Ghizzoni, archbishop of Ravenna, presenting the commitment of the Italian church on the abuse front in a conference that took place last November 19, stated: ” We will not create a single national commission made up of subjects who know nothing of the life of the church, who are qualified as objective only because they are not bishops, priests, or believers, which is something that has caused its damage elsewhere and is not to be imitate; we will examine real data and try to find ways of prevention. What interests us is not putting priests in the pillory, it is preventing abuses and to do this we will need to act decisively, we are committed as bishops to collaborating with the forces of order and justice”. In essence, the only ones authorized or with the necessary skills to carry out investigations on the church are the clerics themselves. Furthermore, from this perspective, the word prevention, right in itself, serves above all as an alibi for not shedding light on the past. But there is another passage of the things said by Monsignor Ghizzoni worthy of note, when he explains the meaning of the second investigation underway, the one on the files of the abusive priests present in the Vatican. “Whoever commits from 10 to 50 cases in his life – observed the archbishop – is a serial abuser and is a very dangerous person, but whoever commits only one abuse in his life, a day he drank, a day he was under stress, a day that he let himself be provoked, can we consider him a serial psychological patient? We will need to think of solutions for these as well”. Who knows what the victim of the priest who had been drinking that day thinks. But, polemics aside, the statements of the CEI’s national head for the protection of minors seem to be a transparent, though obviously unaware, summary of the reasons that led the church to defend itself before doing a work of justice and truth.

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Ultimately, the theme of sexual abuse, due to the variations and implications it entails, has become one of the nodes on which the Church’s ability to remain within its own time will be measured: sexuality, emotional relationships, compulsory celibacy, the role of lay people and women with leadership tasks also covering a sacramental function, the centrality of clericalism in the government of the church, the end of the culture of institutional secrecy as a method of government, are just some of the inevitable themes that arose from the debate born from a story in itself more from judicial reporting than from theological discussion .

On a general level of the problem, the observations made by Christine Pedotti, Catholic feminist and director of the French periodical Temoignage Chrétien, who identified the causes of the vastness of the scandal in the two rocks of sexuality and democracy, are interesting. “Naturally – explained Pedotti – there is no direct link between the sexual abstinence required of Catholic clerics and abuse, rape and aggression. But there is a very powerful indirect link. First, when any form of sexual activity, including simple masturbation, is deemed wrong, messy and sinful, there is no longer a hierarchy of transgression: ‘unclean’ thinking, masturbation, rape, are all confused under the generic term of sin, to the point that the difference between sin and crime is confused”. “This confusion – she continued – is expressed in the very words of those responsible, who do not stop talking about sin, penance and forgiveness, when they should be talking about crime, guilt, victim, investigation, judgment and verdict”.

The problem, according to the scholar, is that “from the Church’s point of view, sexuality is judged in its relationship with the sixth commandment (not to commit adultery, ed.), that is, with a norm, and not in its relational quality and in its relationship with consent. In a non-consensual relationship, a person is violated, not a commandment. That’s why victims are routinely ignored.” From the point of view of case management by the institution, then, the director of Temoignage Chrétien stated: “Democracy and the rules and customs that accompany its exercise are also a guarantee against abuses. In a democratic context, powers are separated and controlled. The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed, the rights of the defense and of the accused are protected. Except in particular cases, the proceedings are public and, above all, the sentences are public”.

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