‘Now or never’: Victims of Italy’s predator priests urge inquiry

Rome (AFP) – Victims of paedophile priests in Italy unveiled Tuesday a campaign dubbed “Beyond the Great Silence”, pushing for an independent investigation into clerical abuse carried out on the Vatican’s doorstep.

Inquiries across the United States, Europe and Australia have exposed the scale of abuse within the Catholic Church — and a decades-long cover-up — and many groups say Italy can no longer avoid scrutiny.

“The government must act, must take advantage of the momentum created by impartial investigations elsewhere,” Francesco Zanardi, founder of Rete L’Abuso (Abuse Network), told AFP.

“If Italy doesn’t do it now, I fear it never will,” said Zanardi, who was abused by a priest as a young teen.

Nine groups have formed a consortium aimed at putting pressure on the country to launch a probe, like recent inquiries in France and Germany.

Cristina Balestrini, who set up a support group for families after her son was abused by a priest, told AFP that the most important thing for survivors was “to make sure it never happens again”.

Not all those molested will survive, “there are many victims who commit suicide, and no one knows about it,” she said.

‘Bitterness and disappointment’

“I am the son of (a) paedophile priest,” Erik Zattoni, 40, told the press conference held Tuesday to launch the consortium.

“My mother was sexually abused at the age of 14,” but when her family reported the rape and refused to hush up the crime, the young teenager, her parents and a newborn Zattoni were evicted from their house, which was church property, he said.

Years later the family applied to a court for a paternity test. It would prove the priest, aged 54 at the time of the attack, was Zattoni’s father, and prompted a confession from the cleric.

“He continued to be a priest for another year and a half,” said Zattoni, adding that he felt “a lot of bitterness and disappointment”. The priest has since died.

“Nothing was done, nothing. What do we have to do to make sure that these priests, these criminals, are convicted, are removed?”

Rete L’Abuso has recorded more than 300 cases of priests accused or convicted of child sexual abuse in the past 15 years in Italy, out of a total of 50,000 priests across the country.

Precise figures on the scale of the problem are impossible to come by.

But the network has joined forces with the Left weekly magazine to create a database of cases, which will go online from Friday and already has details of abuse affecting more than 140 victims.

Journalist Federico Tulli said the magazine had received reports of new cases in the run-up to the launch.

The initiative was a response to the “unacceptable inattention” by politicians to children’s wellbeing, he said.

‘Victims twice over’

The Vatican’s top clerical abuse advisor, Hans Zollner, told AFP this month that after investigations elsewhere, it was time for Italy to act.

The church is not as powerful as it once was in the historic home of popes. But it retains a huge influence and two-thirds of Italians are believers, according to a 2019 survey.

Pope Francis, who has toughened the punishments meted out to abusing priests under Vatican law, on Monday streamlined the Vatican office that processes abuse complaints, in an attempt to expedite cases.

But Zanardi of Rete L’Abuso said he “would have little faith” in an in-house investigation.

Balestrini, 56, is also distrustful of the church since “they acted as if we were the enemy, making us victims twice over” after her teenage son was abused in 2011.

The cleric in question, Mauro Galli, was initially moved to another parish, but was later convicted.

She hopes the new consortium will be able to pressure the church to open its archives, because the scandal, she said, “is much bigger than you can imagine”.

Unearthing the truth would not be easy for Italy, but the church would be wise to act, Balestrini said.

“At the moment, they are trying to keep a lid on it, but it’s better to choose to take the lid off yourself, than have it blown off,” she said.

Source: ‘Now or never’: Victims of Italy’s predator priests urge inquiry (france24.com)

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