Italy’s Catholic Church announced Friday a study into 20 years of internal records on clerical child sex abuse, a step survivors say falls short of their demands for an independent inquiry.
“It’s our duty faced with so much suffering,” Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, who was this week named by Pope Francis to lead Italy’s Bishops’ Conference, told reporters.
In a statement, the Bishops’ Conference said there would be an “analysis” conducted in collaboration with unnamed independent research institutions on alleged or confirmed crimes by clerics in Italy from 2000 to 2021.
It will use data kept by the Vatican department that deals with issues of abuse, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to establish a “deeper and more objective knowledge of the phenomenon”.
The study “will allow an improvement in preventative measures” and allow victims and survivors to be treated with “more awareness”, it added.
But clerical abuse survivor groups have demanded Italy follow other countries in allowing a full and independent probe.
Francesco Zanardi, who was abused by a priest when he was a teenager, said it was “discriminatory” to study cases from 2000 onwards, with “many cases, like mine, excluded”.
Zanardi is the founder of Rete L’Abuso (The Abuse Network), which represents survivors. Earlier this year it said it had recorded more than 300 cases of priests accused or convicted of child sexual abuse in the past 15 years in Italy, out of a total of 50,000 priests across the country.
The Church’s new study is part of a five-point plan agreed by the bishops at a meeting in Rome, which also includes plans for a “national report” on cases and prevention measures over the last two years.
The goal is for this to become an annual collection of evidence, to be analysed by an “academic research centre” and made public.
It follows a call for a transparent annual audit of efforts to protect minors by Pope Francis, who has made a priority of restoring trust in the Catholic Church following a global scandal.
Inquiries across the United States, Europe and Australia have exposed widespread abuse of children and a decades-long cover-up, and many groups say Italy can no longer avoid scrutiny.