VATICAN CITY – The new president of the Italian Conference of Bishops on Friday said he would launch an independent inquiry on sex abuse by Catholic clergy in Italy, but the announcement disappointed victims advocates because it will only go back 20 years.
The Italian church is coming under mountain pressure to confront its legacy of clerical sexual abuse. Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, who was appointed this week by Pope Francis, said the investigation will limit its scope to two decades in order to be “more accurate and accountable.”
Zuppi promised a report would be delivered by Nov. 18 by a panel of independent experts selected among university professors.
“We are starting from them (the victims),’’ Zuppi told a news conference. “It is clear that their suffering drives us, and it should stimulate us to give responses that are trustworthy and serious.”
Victims’ advocates say the initiative does not go far enough. They want investigations to span 50 years, and they want to be directly involved in drafting the report.
Francesco Zanardi, founder of Rete L’Abuso (Abuse Network), one of Italy’s main victims’ advocacy groups, said most of the victims report the abuse only after decades have passed.
“The maturation of a trauma takes between 30, 35 or 40 years, when it goes well,’’ Zanardi told reporters in Rome. “I, for example, spoke about my trauma (when I was) 40 years old ... more than 30 years went by ... this says that 20 years is not enough."
The Italian Catholic Church is one of the few in Western Europe that has not opened its archives to independent researchers to establish the scope of abuse and cover-up in recent decades.
Whether by government mandate, parliamentary investigation or church initiation, such reports in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France have shown systematic problems that allowed thousands of children to be abused by Catholic priests. The churches in Spain and Portugal have recently agreed to launch similar investigations.
By Zanardi’s count, 164 priests are under investigation for abuse in Italy and another 162 have been convicted. His group has gathered information another 161 new cases that have come to light this year.