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In Italy, lay people denounce the omerta of the Catholic Church on sexual abuse

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The law of silence which weighs in Italy on pedocrime in the clergy begins to be seriously challenged. While the Italian Episcopal Conference will hold an assembly from Monday May 23 to Friday May 27 during which its policy on the subject will be discussed and its new president appointed, an accusatory book, to be published on May 26, attempts to explain why the Peninsula is one of the last Western countries where the Catholic Church successfully opposes any attempt to investigate this phenomenon in depth. “This book is intended to compel them to do this investigation”declares to World one of its authors, the historian and journalist Lucetta Scaraffia.

Entitled Agnus Dei. Gli abusi sessuali del clero in Italia (“Agnus Dei. Sexual abuse in the clergy in Italy”, Solferino, 224 pages, untranslated), written by Lucetta Scaraffia, Anna Foa and Franca Giansoldati, the work drew part of its raw material from the archives amassed by Francesco Zanardi. Assaulted in his childhood by a priest, this 51-year-old man has been collecting scattered information found in the press for twelve years.

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Very alone, for a long time, to carry out this work, this inhabitant of Savona (Liguria), in the vicinity of Genoa, ended up becoming the recipient of information sent to him by other victims, or their families, who had suffered the rebuffs from the Catholic hierarchy. These data are online, but in bulk, on the website of his association, Rete L’Abuso.

Lucetta Scaraffia immersed herself in these chaotic fragments of drama and broken lives to try to tell these stories and explain why omerta persists in Italy more than elsewhere. This Catholic is not her first sting in the Church. In February 2019, when she ran the women’s monthlyosservatore romano, the official daily of the Vatican, it had published an investigation denouncing the sexual violence inflicted by priests on nuns. She remains inexhaustible on this subject, which she considers even more hidden, in her country, than paedocriminality. With these two scandals, she says, “the Church is seated on a volcano”.

Well-known patterns

The authors have counted, in the archives of Francesco Zanardi, “about 320” concerned priests, “of which 159 have been definitively sentenced”. They note that many procedures come to a halt after the conclusion, by the dioceses, of a transaction with the families affected, often of modest means. In exchange for compensation of 15,000 to 25,000 euros, most victims agree to withdraw their complaint. For their part, the dioceses retain the services of reputable lawyers whose names appear in several cases.

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