VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Catholic groups on Tuesday accused the Italian Church of an “institutional failure” to tackle clergy sex abuse and demanded an independent national inquiry mirroring those carried out in France and Germany.
A collective of nine groups – seven led by women – made the demand when launching a campaign called “Beyond the Great Silence” and a hashtag, #ItalyChurchToo, inspired by the international #MeToo movement against bullying sexual.
In an online press conference, Paola Lazzarini, head of Women in the Church, called for the opening of the archives of “all dioceses, convents and monasteries”, for damages for the victims and for the discovery of the truth, “however painful”.
Globally, disclosures of clergy sex abuse have so far cost the Church hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation.
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The Italian campaign aims to increase public pressure on the Church and government for a decades-old national inquiry, and rejects claims by some Italian Catholic leaders that the Church has the resources to do the job itself.
“Only independent investigations (elsewhere) have overcome the Church’s resistance to acknowledging its own institutional failure,” said anti-abuse lawyer Ludovica Eugenio.
Any Italian investigation “must absolutely be impartial”, added Francesco Zanardi, head of Rete l’Abuso (The Abuse Network).
Pope Francis has expressed shame at the Church’s failure to deal with sexual abuse cases and said it must make itself a “safe home for all”.
The Vatican did not comment on Tuesday.
Italian bishops are due to decide in May what kind of abuse investigation, if any, the country will organize.
Antonio Messina, 28, one of the victims who attended the press conference, says he was repeatedly abused as a minor by an adult seminarian turned priest.
Without providing details, he said local church authorities in his hometown tried to buy his silence. “The Church is not in a position to handle this (investigation),” he said.
The German study, published in 2018, showed that 1,670 clergy members abused 3,677 minors from 1946 to 2014. The French investigation, published last year and covering seven decades, found that more than 200,000 children had been abused in Catholic institutions.
Zanardi said the numbers would be higher in predominantly Catholic Italy because the country has traditionally had many more priests.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by John Stonestreet)
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