Italian Bishops Opt to Self-Police on Abuse

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by Stephen Wynne  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  May 23, 2019   

Victims skeptical of new norms

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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The introduction of new sex abuse norms in Italy is being met with skepticism.

On Thursday, the Italian Bishops' Conference closed out their 73rd General Assembly by adopting new measures aimed at stamping out clerical sex abuse in their country.

But victims are voicing disappointment, saying the new protocols fall short, as they actually empower the bishops with self-policing authority.


Under the new policy, Church staff are responsible for carrying out initial investigations into allegations of abuse. Law enforcement would be notified of an accusation only if a bishop decides such is warranted. 

Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni, metropolitan of Ravenna-Cervia, praised the new norms as "an important step forward," telling reporters the measures establish a "moral obligation" for the reporting of clerical sex abuse.

We have had many examples of bishops withholding allegations that later proved to be true.

Ghizzoni, who oversees child protection for the Church in Italy, explained that chancery officials would oversee preliminary investigations, then notify police whenever an allegation is deemed credible.

Under current Italian law, clergy are not designated mandatory reporters of abuse.

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Abp. Lorenzo Ghizzoni

In February, the United Nations Commission on the Rights of the Child blasted Italy for its paltry number of clerical sex abuse investigations and prosecutions, and the country has so far ignored recommendations to set up an independent body to review abuse allegations.

In light of established patterns both inside and outside the Church, victims and their advocates doubt the new norms will end the abuse crisis in Italy. 

"I don't find this terribly reassuring," victims' advocate Anne Barrett-Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, told Reuters Thursday. "We have had many examples of bishops withholding allegations that later proved to be true."

Francesco Zanardi of Rete L'Abuso, Italy's most prominent victims' group, also cast doubt on the new measures: "If the pope really wanted to do something," he told Reuters, "he would just change Church law to order all bishops to report all suspected cases directly to police for them to investigate." 

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