ROME — Italy’s bishops’ conference provided the first ever statistics of clerical sex abuse in the country Tuesday, saying there had been about 100 cases over the past 10 years that warranted church trials or other canonical procedures.
Monsignor Mariano Crociata, the No. 2 official in the Italian bishops’ conference, gave the estimate during a press conference on the sidelines of the bishops’ general assembly, the ANSA and Apcom news agencies reported.
He declined to say how many of the cases resulted in condemnation or defrocking of the priest, or how many were reported to police. While saying the church officials cooperated with police, he insisted that Italian law doesn’t require bishops to report suspected abuse.
Some lawyers for victims say bishops are required to report abuse since they are public officials. Vatican norms say bishops should follow civil laws in reporting abuse.
Crociata’s comments came a day after the head of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, opened the bishops’ annual meeting by asking families to trust the Catholic Church despite the scandal, insisting that it had never intended to underestimate the problem.
The meeting came as more cases are coming to light in the Vatican’s backyard: On Tuesday, the ANSA news agency reported that a 73-year-old priest well known in Milan’s gay community had been arrested on charges he had sex with a 13-year-old boy, who is now 16. A day earlier, a priest in Savona went on trial for alleged sexual violence against a 12-year-old girl, ANSA said.
And last week, a Rome bishop testified in the case of another accused priest, the Rev. Ruggero Conti, that he knew about rumors of abuse two years before Conti was arrested yet didn’t alert police or the Vatican or proceed with any canonical trial against him.
Mario Staderini, a member of Italy’s Radical party who is a civil party in the Conti case, said it was unconscionable that a canonical trial hadn’t proceeded against Conti, given the evidence provided to his bishop, Monsignor Gino Reali.
Reali testified that he had spoken to 20-25 people, including two boys who said they had been abused by Conti, yet didn’t find their accusations credible. He said he convened a tribunal after receiving a written complaint from one of the boys, but it never got under way because the victim didn’t show up.
Conti is charged with sexual violence and other charges. In police interrogations, the boys — some as young as 13 at the time of the alleged abuse — said Conti would masturbate them and force them to perform oral sex on him in his home, where he frequently invited them to eat dinner and watch movies.
“How is it possible that only in Italy no bishop has felt the need to resign or make a mea culpa for failing to be vigilant?” Staderini asked in a statement.
He said if the Italian bishops’ conference wanted to be transparent and care for victims it should put some of the money that Italians earmark to the Catholic Church on their income taxes toward a fund for victims.
The main U.S. victims group, SNAP, Survivors’ Network for Those Abused by Priests, denounced Crociata for his defense of not reporting abuse to police, saying “it’s tragic and telling that most Catholic officials still insist on keeping clergy sex crimes secret.”
The group’s Midwest director Peter Isely said he doubted that there had only been 100 cases. “For decades, Catholic officials have underestimated and underreported the shocking extent of clergy sex crimes. We believe most of them still do.”