'Time to air the dirty laundry': Italy's bishops reveal 600 sex abuse cases sent to Vatican

Catholic bishops in Italy revealed Thursday that over 600 cases of sexual abuse by priests in the country were on file at the Vatican since 2000.

The Italian bishops’ conference, known as Conferenza Episcopale Italiana or CEI, presented the report — titled "Protecting, preventing, educating" — at a packed conference in Rome's lavish Renaissance Pio Palace.

Among the attendees was the CEI Secretary-General Monsignor Giuseppe Baturi, while the conference's President was absent.

The document identified 89 presumed victims and some 68 people accused. Out of the reported victims, 61 were identified as minors.

The alleged perpetrators were not only priests and members of the clergy but also lay people involved with the Church — including teachers, catechists and vergers.

The report, which only covered complaints that local Italian church authorities had received over the last two years, did not mention the hundreds of cases.

Nevertheless, Monsignor Baturi revealed to a reporter at a press conference that CEI was researching 613 files held at the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The secretary-general noted that some of the 613 cases might have been archived, and some might contain multiple victims of a serial predator.

"We have to understand how many victims, what their profile is, who are those responsible," he said.

'Church not trying to hide its history of abuse'

The revelation highlighted that the initial report by the bishops’ conference was not intended to provide an accurate or historical look at the clergy abuse problem in Italy.

The country’s bishops never authorised such research despite demands from survivors for a full accounting, which some other Catholic Churches in Europe have published.

Instead, the Italian bishops limited the scope of their report to evaluate the work of "listening centres" that were set up in dioceses since 2019 to receive complaints from victims.

Organisers said during a news conference Thursday that the report provided a "first image" of the problem, and the bishops planned to release annual reports from now on.

The numbers paled in comparison to the tally of known cases kept by Italy’s main survivors’ group, Rete L’Abuso, which estimates some 1 million victims in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country.

The group has identified some 178 accused priests, 165 priests who were convicted by Italian law enforcement and some 218 new cases.

Nevertheless, the numbers reported by the Italian bishops even in these two past years were significant, said Francesco Zanardi, the head of Rete l’Abuso.

Monsignor Lorenzo Ghizzoni, head of the Italian church’s national child protection service, denied that the church was trying to hide its history of sexual abuse cases.

"It's time to air the dirty laundry," he claimed.

Ghizzoni also said the numbers in the report were significant, given the reporting period covered a time when church activities were either shuttered or reduced due to COVID-19.

"These are just a few, but they’re a lot," especially for a system to receive complaints that had just been started, he stated.

When asked about whether there would be efforts to compensate victims, Ghizzoni added that the issue had been "taken into consideration," but that no direct plans for reparations had been elaborated, deeming it a civil matter for the courts to decide.

The Vatican in 2001 required dioceses around the world to send all their credible reports of abuse to the dicastery for processing.

The Vatican had felt compelled to act after decades in which bishops and religious superiors moved predator priests around from diocese to diocese rather than punishing them or reporting them to the police.