CM Exclusive: Interview With Emiliano Fittipaldi

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by Juliana Freitag  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 19, 2017   

Casting a spotlight on sex abuse in the Vatican

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Italian author Emiliano Fittipaldi, one of the defendants in the 2016 Vatileaks 2.0 trial, recently published his book Lust: Sins, Scandals and Betrayals of a Church Made of Men, detailing never-before-known facts about sexual scandals in Rome. He recently spoke with Church Militant in this exclusive interview. 
 
Editor's Note: The author's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ChurchMilitant.com.
 
CM: What prompted you to write this book?
 
EF: Well, it's actually quite simple. I'm an investigative journalist; I investigate power. In my previous book, Greed, the one that led me to be prosecuted in the Vatican, I tried to understand how far Pope Francis' reform had gone. And I actually discovered that the Vatican scandals hadn't been tackled at all. I went after a monsignor who works inside the Vatican, and he advised me to go ahead and find out whether there had been any actual changes regarding procedures to handle sex abuse charges. And this monsignor himself confirmed to me that there hadn't been any changes.
 
During the pontificate of Pope Francis, accusations have doubled compared to the period of 2005–2010.
He showed me information from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where in the last three years, during the pontificate of Pope Francis, accusations have doubled compared to the period of 2005–2010. More than 1,200 complaints were brought forward. I thought that was interesting and decided to inspect this phenomenon. I wanted to understand if the Church was really doing what She had promised to do, and I found out that no, She's not doing it. 
 
CM: You wrote an article in La Repubblica stating that you found out there are more than 200 cases of priests accused of sexual crimes in Italy. It's quite incredible that Italy has never seen a Spotlight investigation akin to what took place in the United States when the Boston Globe exposed the sex abuse crisis in the American Church in 2002.
 
EF: Well, this is what I tried to do with this book. 
 
CM: In recent interviews you spoke of "Catholic shame" and said public opinion has never really paid that much attention to the sexual scandals, but isn't it a bit simplistic to link a lack of real investigation of such horrendous crimes to the cultural environment, to a lack of interest from the public? After your research, do you think there's anything else that might actually be preventing a Spotlight from happening in Italy?
 
EF: This is a good question. I am a journalist and I try not to give my opinion. I don't like opinions and I go straight to facts. And this is not only my explanation, this is the explanation also given by Scicluna, who was the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011. I asked him why not in Italy, and I don't mean only Italy, but generally in Catholic countries like Spain, Portugal, and all South American countries — why haven't these countries ever seen scandals, or their governments haven't ever set up committees of inquiry? He answered that it doesn't happen because there's omertà (a term that refers to a code of silence among criminals); there's a culture of silence.
 
 

If I had to say more, I'd say that I think that there's a power of the Church that reaches deeply in Italy, a lot more than anywhere else in the world, especially if we consider the Anglo-Saxon world. And our media, also, the traditional media, newspapers, TV channels, they find it difficult to criticize the Church even if we are speaking of such grave offenses. For this book I have been interviewed by you, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC, yesterday by Die Zeit — and not by one Italian newspaper. 
 
CM: Really?
 
EF: Really! Not even one!
 
CM: This is shocking. When we were preparing the articles on those who reported the circle of sex-abusing priests in Brindisi, there actually was a lot of material available, but few of the major newspapers spoke about it. And there weren't many public manifestations of indignation. 
 
EF: Yes. But the indignation would come if there was a press campaign, like the one that happened in the United States after Spotlight. I'll give you another example. In the book I describe how three cardinals of the Council of Nine, three out of nine — George Pell, Francisco Javier Errázuriz and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga — have covered up for accused priests, there is evidence that proves the cover-ups. Pell made news, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries like Australia, England, the United States, but in Italy the only person who discussed Pell's case was me. And before he was interrogated. But no one has ever really analyzed Pell's story.
 
And the story of Maradiaga has never been told as well. So now what I do is to demonstrate that Francis has promoted cardinals who commit cover-ups. And this is something that could have been written two years ago. When the pope appointed the cardinals for the council, the press could have fact-checked their past, but no one has ever done it. This is a responsibility we, Italian press, have. It's just that the newspapers prefer to reproduce whatever has been published by the Holy See's Press Office than try to understand if that news is truthful or not.
 
And obviously, with some exceptions, at times it happens we are a bit harsh. My newspaper, L'Espresso, put a very harsh cover on the edition reviewing my book. 
 
CM: Compared to other vehicles it wasn't that bad. Usually we expect a defamation campaign against the Catholic Church. 
 
EF: No, what we must undertake is an information campaign. We don't like defamation. But information is important. 
 
CM: It's very important, and as Catholics we have a responsibility to investigate this cancer in our Church. 
 
EF: Exactly. But for me the Church has nothing to do with it. I mean, the Holy Church. For me this is about the institution. The Church is one thing, and the other thing is the Vatican institution. I don't write books against the Faith. I'm an agnostic but I have enormous respect for religions. If you read my books there won't be a line against the Faith, unlike many others who go on and on about the connection between Catholicism and pedophilia. For me this is foolishness, utter foolishness. It's stupid. But anyway, concluding the discussion on the Italian media, particularly, but more generally on media in all Catholic countries, there's a lot of conformism. There's this will to not create scandal. And not only concerning the Vatican, but concerning power in general, it's difficult to inquire in Italy; we're not used to it. I have a bit of an Anglo-Saxon mentality from that point of view. Even if I'm writing about Matteo Renzi [former prime minister of Italy] or about Virginia Raggi [current mayor of Rome], for me it's important to tell the facts without offering opinions, without trying to propose a thesis. I try to uncover the facts that the power is hiding from us, and I don't make any comments. The reader then decides whether to comment or not. 
 
Now going back to the Vatican, these 1,200 accusations, which are so many, could also be something positive. It could be that people now have more courage to come forward and press charges, or maybe the bishops are more afraid that if they don't report they could be expelled. These numbers aren't necessarily a negative thing. But it is a sign that the phenomenon is still very strong. The United Nations in 2014 asked the Vatican to open the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They don't want to do it. Everything is sub secreto Pontificio. And while this rule doesn't change, it's too hard to talk about transparency. 
 
CM: About the cases connected to the cardinals, like that of Cdl. George Pell, or the case of Cdl. Timothy Dolan of New York, does your book present any new interviews or documents that have never been published before?
 
EF: Yes, there are unpublished documents on Pell; they are documents that show that he has helped economically, when he was the archbishop of Melbourne, a few priests when they got out of prison. He has also arranged places for them to live. And this would all be okay, because I think everyone deserves mercy, even these monsters, but at the same time Pell tried his best to defend the Church's money from the financial reparations requested by the victims. 
 
CM: This seems to be a general problem, these bishops that help accused or even condemned priests. They simply transfer the priests somewhere else and help them re-establish.
 
EF: Exactly, and this is the fundamental problem. I can understand the mercy, but there must also be severity. We must obviously have mercy for the criminal, but we must have mercy, above all, for the victims. But frequently there's no compassion for the victims. I'll give an example: the case of the Antonio Provolo Institute, an institute for the deaf-mute in Verona. This case burst in my newspaper in 2009, and 77 deaf-mute students declared they had been abused, for decades, by 25 clergymen. The students provided a list, the Vatican established a commission and punished, very lightly, with light fines and admonitions, only two priests among the 25 clergymen accused. These poor students have never received any financial recognition, and in practice no one believed them. And what happened two weeks ago? One of these priests, who had been transferred to another branch of the institute in Argentina, not very far from the former diocese of Abp. Bergoglio, was arrested because he sexually abused other children.
 
CM: His lifestyle wasn't at all affected. 
 
EF: Exactly. But the problem is that in the last few years nothing has been done. These deaf-mute students were discredited, this priest that was transferred to Argentina had been accused, and he ended up arrested by the police two weeks ago. This demonstrates how much these cases aren't taken seriously still today. 
 
CM: So you would say it's unquestionable that there are many cases of priests and bishops who are undoubtedly guilty but still have ties to the Vatican?
 
EF: Yes! And another example: Cardinal Bernard Law, the cardinal of Boston exposed by The Boston Globe, who protected Geoghan and other pedophile priests, was expelled — at least he was expelled and forced to resign. But George Pell has even made a career in the Vatican! He's the number three in the Vatican. The number three, the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, and he himself, although there's still no proof, is being accused of sexual abuse. And the Vatican has always defended him. I'm not interested in the accusations of direct abuse while he's not pronounced guilty; we always need to be cautious in these situations, but I have read all the documents, the records of the commission, and these for me prove, undoubtedly, at least from an ethical point of view, how he has not behaved well as a Christian. The fact that he still has the Vatican's support — I mean, he was by the side of pedophiles when they went to court, he tried to give a very small amount of money to the victims, telling them to either accept it or that the Church would defend Herself. He has lied to victims telling them he didn't believe them when he knew the accused was indeed a pedophile. And all of this to allegedly save money for the Church. This cannot be done by such an important cardinal like Pell! 
 
CM: Absolutely not. Anyway, soon after Spotlight, a research study was commissioned, and many priests and scholars who study the subject agree with the findings, which are that the problem of pedophilia in the Church has an undeniable connection with the active homosexual clergy. Does your research bear this out?
 
There's in fact a gay lobby, and the most disturbing thing is that they are able either to block or advance careers, according to their interest. 
EF: No, no, I don't agree with this, no. I think pedophilia is a very spread-out disease, and it's spread out in other institutions, not only the Catholic Church, and it has nothing to do with homosexuality. Because homosexuality is not a disease, it's a sexual condition, but pedophilia, for me, is a disease. Of course it is even more intolerable in the Church because of Her moral authority, for Her spiritual power, Her power of guidance for billions of people, including the children of Catholic families, and this is why I am more interested to analyze it inside the Church than anywhere else. But from all studies that I have read, there's absolutely no connection between pedophilia and homosexuality. There is, though, a chapter on the Vatican gay lobby in my book. 
 
CM: We read in the Italian Huffington Post an extract of your book that discusses the existence of the gay lobby. What are your thoughts on the gay lobby inside the Church?
 
EF: I think it exists. It exists not because I think so, but because there were cases that make it evident, and I describe these cases in my book. There are people inside the Vatican with homosexual inclinations, and that in itself wouldn't be a problem, but it becomes a problem when homosexuality is practiced — not because I have anything against consenting adults engaging in homosexual sex, but because the doctrine of the Church, still today, even under Francis, is still very hard with homosexuals. Francis has certainly promoted an opening, with declarations such as the famous "Who am I to judge?" he looked like a revolutionary. It was an important political opening, but the doctrine of the Church has not changed even by a comma. 
 
CM: And it is not going to change. 
 
EF: Well, if it's going to change or not... For you I guess it's better to remain the way it is, but I would like to see some change. But on the last Synod of the Family the progressive advances of Pope Francis were completely blocked by the conservative majority. The Catechism says that homosexuality is a perversion. [Note: Actually, what the Catechism states is that homosexual acts are "acts of grave depravity."] Ratzinger has stated that homosexuality is an intrinsically evil act, he has blocked people with homosexual tendencies from entering seminaries, even if they are not practicing homosexuals. All of this imposes a mirrored behavior from the people who set the tone. And well, Pope Francis had to admit, as has admitted Ratzinger in his last biography, from September last year, that there is a gay lobby inside the Vatican. And that has also been told by a former Swiss Guard chief, who complained that his soldiers were constantly harassed for sex, suffering pressure from the cardinals, receiving gifts and invitations from them. The gay lobby exists and according to this former chief of the Swiss Guard it even puts the Pope's life in danger. I don't know what he means by that. 
 
CM: Did he declare this directly to you?
 
EM: Yes, it's in the book, it's all in the book. All of this shows that there's in fact a gay lobby, and the most disturbing thing is that they are able either to block or advance careers, according to their interest. And it should be remembered that for the Church homosexuality is a very grave sin, a violation of the Sixth Commandment, and this is sometimes also used in internal wars, used as calumny, so we need to be very careful to distinguish what's gossip and what's real. The examples I give are examples where I actually prove the existence of homosexual relationships, and sometimes also the existence of the economic interests behind it all. Otherwise it's all unfounded gossip that is eventually used in the "mud machine" [an expression in Italian journalism to describe the coordinated actions of media groups to circulate slander, and also the title of one of Fittipaldi's previous books].
 
CM: So you think the Vatican makes use of its own "mud machine"?
 
EF: Yes, and what we are talking about here goes on inside the Vatican, where certain monsignori accuse one another of homosexuality. At a certain point Msgr. Carlo Maria Viganò, who served as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, accused one of Cdl. Tarcisio Bertone's secretaries of being gay. At the same time, Dino Boffo, former director of the bishops' newspaper Avvenire, was publicly destroyed by false accusations of homosexuality. So we need to be very, very careful. 
 
And there's also the opposite side of it all, where so many stories are invented against the Church, so it's a lot of work to individualize every case. I hate anti-clerical people. A lot of people think I'm an anti-clerical, when I actually have a lot of respect for the Church. As an investigative journalist I find it important to target the rotten apples, as this is my craft. When people ask me "How come you never speak of the beautiful things done by the Church?" I always reply that the Church in Italy benefits from extremely favorable press; the Church certainly doesn't need Fittipaldi. Actually, I would say that it's very important to give a name and a surname to everything that is wrong, because we can then praise even more the vast majority of clergymen, priests and bishops who are doing their best to help families, children, the poor, and this should not ever be forgotten. 
 
CM: Definitely. You just said you'd like to see a "revolution" in the Church, a touch of progressivism; do you reckon that Pope Francis, who for you seems to personify this progress, will manage to at least start to solve this problem of the sexual abuses?
 
EF: No. 
 
CM: No?
 
EF: No! It has been only four years, but for now Benedict XVI has done a lot more in two or three years than Pope Francis has in four. Francis has done one fundamental thing: He created the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. 
 
CM: If we remember correctly, the Commission has met only twice?
 
EF: Maybe a few times more, because one of the members has told me they met three or four times. In reality it seems there were six official meetings, but that doesn't really change the situation. Six meetings in two and a half years is practically nothing. And these have been plenary meetings, with all of the members. The problem isn't so much the number of meetings, but the fact that this commission has no power whatsoever. They can't investigate pedophilia cases. They don't have access to the letters and documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where all the processes are. The only thing this commission can do is to give guidelines to the episcopal conferences, it can promote workshops. They have considered instituting a day of prayer. But this is all worthless. It's all talk, it's completely useless. And this is so true that abuse survivor Peter Saunders has walked away slamming the door saying that Francis hadn't really done anything, and that Francis has only served as excellent public relations for the Church. 
 
CM: This seems to be the general idea the world makes of the Pope. 
 
EF: Saunders was perhaps a bit too severe, but when I went to check what had been done by this commission I discovered they had done nothing. They haven't even managed to add to Vatican norms the obligation to report, as asked by the United Nations, the obligation to report that would force a bishop go to a Civil Justice Court, not only to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Last year a magistrate was investigating for pedophilia a very powerful priest in Lombardy, Fr. Mauro Inzoli, whose nickname was "Don Mercedes," owing to his taste for expensive cars. The judge asked the Vatican for the documents, which were refused. He was finally arrested, but the judge had to do everything by himself, so what has really changed? Nothing. Some will say that I'm exaggerating, but the book hasn't been out for long, and I do hope someone shows up and proves that I am wrong. 
 
CM: Let's hope it serves as a wake-up call. What would be the fundamental thing to do, according to you?
 
EF: Transparency, transparency, transparency. The same thing for the Institute for the Works of Religion [The Vatican Bank]. It isn't transparent, we know nothing about this institution yet.
 
Without transparency, everything remains within the shadows of the Vatican walls.
CM: So you think the only way to handle this situation is to make public the sub secreto Pontifico documents?
 
EF: Yes, otherwise how can we make progress? Without transparency, everything remains within the shadows of the Vatican walls, there's no cooperation with the civil justice system, and this creates a serious problem of credibility for the Church. And as for Francis' Church, we need more facts and less talking. 
 
CM: Would you like to add further comments?
 
EF: The important thing for me is to make clear that, unlike what many have already affirmed, I am not an enemy of the Church. No! And in fact there many priests and members of the clergy who keep writing me to thank me and say that mine is very positive work. It's a cleaning job.

 

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