- PHILIP PULLELLA and ANGELO AMANTE
In an ongoing trial in Sicily, a 28-year-old Italian is seeking justice against a man he accuses of coercing him into sexual acts before becoming a priest.
Victim claims alleged abuse, committed more than a decade ago when he was a minor and accused was a seminarian leading youth groups, included forced masturbation and oral sex in sacristies and halls of class. The accused denies the charges.
NORTHERN NAVARRE REGION PUBLISHES ONE OF FIRST OFFICIAL REPORTS ON CHURCH ABUSE IN SPAIN
The region of Navarre in northern Spain released a report on Friday identifying 52 cases of alleged sexual abuse of minors in Catholic institutions over seven decades, in one of Spain’s first official investigations into the abuse. committed by the Church.
Allegations of widespread child abuse by Catholic clergy and possible cover-ups by the Church are only now surfacing in Spain, years after similar scandals rocked the Church in other countries like the United States. , Ireland and France.
A woman wearing a face mask prays inside a church in Lleida, Spain, July 13, 2020. PHOTO: Reuters/Nacho Doce/File Photo.
The report by the Regional Government of Navarre and the Public University of Navarre revealed that more than 31 priests and church members, including 21 teachers, allegedly abused minors in more than 17 schools and ecclesiastical institutions in the region since 1948 .
Navarre’s regional justice chief, Eduardo Santos, said Friday the cases represented “the tip of the iceberg”.
“This is not a problem of the Catholic Church but a problem within the Church that the Christian community experiences with horror and concern. This report is an attempt to uncover the truth,” Santos said during a ‘a press conference.
At least seven other alleged victims came forward in Navarre after the report was completed, Santos said.
A newspaper report El País into the sexual abuse of children by the church caused an uproar in December and sparked a debate about how such cases should be investigated.
The head of the Spanish episcopal conference said he would set up internal commissions to clarify and investigate at the diocesan level.
Some left-leaning politicians have called for a congressional investigation, while Spain’s ruling Socialist Party has suggested the national ombudsman investigate.
“Anything that contributes to ending this scourge in society is welcome,” a spokesman for the Archbishop of Pamplona told Reuters in response to the report.
“The Catholic Church has the infrastructure to welcome and help victims of all abuses,” the spokesperson said.
The cases identified by the University of Navarre will be handed over to local prosecutors, who will assess whether they are not covered by a statute of limitations. In civil courts, institutions could be sued for damages.
On February 1, Reuters reported that Spain’s attorney general had given its regional offices 10 days to provide the results of ongoing judicial investigations into church sex abuse cases.
– CHRISTINA THYLJAER/Madrid, Spain/ Reuters
The victim turned himself in to police only after the church failed to follow up on his accusations, which he spelled out to two priests and at a meeting with a bishop involving his parents.
Victims’ groups say there are thousands of similar cases hidden in church archives, and they are increasing pressure for an independent investigation in Italy to reflect recent moves in France and Germany.
Nine Italian groups have formed a consortium and will announce a campaign called “Beyond the Great Silence” on Tuesday and unveil a hashtag #ItalyChurchToo.
It aims to publicly pressure the Italian government to investigate past and present abuses in the church or for the church to commission an impartial investigation by outsiders.
The campaign is the latest global move to force the Catholic Church to establish the full extent of clergy sexual abuse that has cost it millions of dollars in victim compensation.
“The state and the government must take the lead on this,” Francesco Zanardi, the leader of one of the groups, Rete l’Abuso (The Abuse Network), which tracks clerical abuse in Italy, told Reuters. .
“If the church investigates itself, its first objective will be to protect itself,” said Zanardi, a victim of clergy sexual abuse.
Activists did not specify how many sexual abuse crimes they suspected had taken place in Italy, but Rete l’Abuso documented hundreds of such cases, mostly current or recent.
The German study, published in 2018, showed that 1,670 clergymen abused 3,677 minors from 1946 to 2014. The French survey published last year and covering seven decades found that more than 200,000 children had been abused in Catholic institutions.
Pope Francis expressed his shame at the church’s failure to deal with sexual abuse cases and said the church must make itself a “safe home for all”. Former Pope Benedict has acknowledged that mistakes occurred in handling sexual abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Munich and asked for forgiveness.
The results of an independent survey dating back decades could be devastating in Italy, where around 74% of the population is Catholic.
“The church doesn’t want this because it would be a powder keg,” Zanardi said.
The bishops of Italy are divided on the type of investigation to be carried out.
Some say the church has the resources, like diocesan anti-abuse committees, to do the job itself.
Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, a supporter of an internal investigation, explained his position in an interview with the newspaper. Paola Lazzarini, head of Women in the Church, which is part of the consortium, told Reuters Bassetti’s position “does not satisfy us at all”.
Other bishops, including Erio Castellucci of Modena and Paolo Lojudice of Siena, signaled their support for the commissioning of an outside investigation.
Victims groups and some experts on abuse within the Church have warned that an internal investigation would not be convincing.
“We may have the best intentions, but as long as we do it internally, no one will believe us,” Father Hans Zollner, who heads the department of protection and prevention of sexual abuse at the Gregorian University, told Reuters. Rome.
A decision must be taken in May during a plenary to elect the new president of the Italian Episcopal Conference because any investigation will be carried out during his five-year term.