Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi  (AFP or licensors)

Italian Bishops to produce report on abuse. Zuppi: 'We owe it to victims'

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, in his first conference as president of the Italian Bishops' Conference, explains the details of the local Church's report on safeguarding activities and on reported cases of abuse, as well as an analysis of data on alleged or ascertained crimes committed by clerics in 2000-2021. Publication scheduled for 18 November.

By Salvatore Cernuzio

“No cover-up, no resistance from the bishops. We will take the beating we have to take and also our responsibility. We owe it to the victims; their pain is the priority. And we owe it to Holy Mother Church”. The announcement of a national report by the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) on cases of abuse within the Italian Church took up about half of Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi’s two-hour-long press conference. It was the first press conference held by the archbishop of Bologna as since he was named president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference by the Pope three days ago.

In the Institute of the Holy Infant Mary - a place familiar to the Archbishop because it was his old kindergarten – Cardinal Zuppi reported on the work of the 76th General Assembly of the CEI and answered journalists’ questions on the war in Ukraine, nuclear weapons, the synodal path, and ethical issues. But above all Zuppi addressed the issue of abuse. It was the ‘big question’ asked of Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti’s successor as CEI president, a question raised in recent months by several associations, who asked Cardinal Zuppi, as his first commitment, to respond to hundreds of victims in Italy by following other European churches by setting up an independent commission to shed light on old and new cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors.

A national report

There will be an investigation. The 223 Italian bishops gathered for their General Assembly have drawn up five action plans “for more effective prevention of the abuse phenomenon,” according to the bishops’ final communique. In addition to strengthening the Listening Centres that cover 70% of Italian dioceses, the action plans also provide for the implementation of a first national report on cases of abuse reported or denounced to the network of diocesan and inter-diocesan services over the past two years, and the launch of an analysis of data maintained by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on presumed or verified crimes committed by clerics in Italy in the period from 2000-2021. The national report will be produced with the “contribution of independent centres” of university institutes of criminology and victimology. The report is expected to be published on 18 November, the day chosen by the Italian Bishops’ Conference itself to remember victims and survivors of abuse, as a tribute to these people whose “pain” is the fundamental point of reference. 

The “Italian Path”

The Italian response to abuse, then, differs, therefore, from the approaches adopted by the churches of Germany, France, Portugal and more recently also Spain: It is a distinctly “Italian path,” as Cardinal Zuppi described. He emphasized, firmly and repeatedly, that the Italian bishops' decision is not intended to be merely lip service, and much less an attempt to hide from or escape the consequences of the abuse crisis. On the contrary, he insisted that the bishops intend for the report to be “a serious, real thing” that leaves no room for controversy – as happened, for example, in France with the work done by the Ciase commission, which gave rise to “extensive discussions”. Cardinal Zuppi said, “We don’t want to argue, we don’t want to sidetrack. The report does not serve as a sedative, but to do things seriously.”

Survey from 2000 to 2021

This is why the Italian Bishops’ Conference decided to analyse the last 21 years and not go back as far as the 1940s, as was the case with the aforementioned foreign reports. “With regard to the past twenty years, there is nothing to be done: it has to do with us, it involves us directly. It feels much more serious to us, it hurts much more. 1945 was 80 years ago. I believe that judging something from 80 years ago by today’s criteria, something that was was judged by other criteria at the time, creates difficulties of evaluation,” the Cardinal explained. He noted, too, that there was no “resistance” to the plan among the bishops.

The call for dialogue with Rete L’Abuso

The choice of a time limit was, however, criticised by some present at the press conference, including Francesco Zanardi, president of the victims’ association Rete L’Abuso. Zanardi, himself a victim of a priest in the past, pointed out that it could be ‘discriminatory’ to analyse relatively recent cases that would cut out those that occurred in previous years – including cases that were never reported to the judiciary because they were beyond the statute of limitations; nor to the Church, which allegedly ignored them.

On the subject of reparations, Zanardi pointed out that there is also a risk of creating inequality because they are only destined for victims of abuse from the last twenty years, whereas there are survivors who still suffer from very serious physical and psychic pathologies (Rete L’Abuso cites some 1600 cases). After listening and taking notes on his agenda, Cardinal Zuppi invited Zanardi to dialogue: “Let us meet! We would be very happy to meet with you. If you have a case, tell us. I don’t know if you’ve already done so, I’m speaking only for myself... Then there’s the State, you go to the police. Surely it will be very useful to make a report,” said the cardinal. He added, “The State has rules, [but] for us there is no moral prescription”.  With regard to reparations, Cardinal Zuppi said it is “a very open question”. In any case, he added, “the problem is not just about quantity, we also need quality. There is no desire not to give numbers: the collaboration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith demonstrates this”.


On the issue of abuse, but also in general on the challenges that the Italian Church is facing, the new president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference has indicated that the path forward is through “listening”. As he had said in his first statement a few hours after his appointment, it is a “listening that has to hurt.” The cardinal reiterated the idea on Friday, exhorting the Church to be “a Church that listens, that feels like a travelling companion, and that has the attitude of a mother who wants to start walking together”. The “pandemics” – Covid and the war – “have revealed that we are ‘brothers all’”, he said, adding, “We must mature this awareness, and the Church must find answers to suffering and to questions of meaning”.

The importance of the synodal path

In this sense, said Cardinal Zuppi, the ongoing synodal path is “very important”. One journalist pointed out, however, that the path desired by the Pope seems “not to have taken off”. For Cardinal Zuppi, part of the reason for that is the pandemic, which “has made it difficult to find each other”. In spite of this, however, the cardinal reported that 205 reports had arrived at the Bishops’ Conference secretariat, the result of syntheses from 50,000 diocesan groups, many of them made up of groups of laypeople.

Do not forget other wars

The press conference also addressed the war in Ukraine. First of all, Cardinal Zuppi called for refugees to be welcomed – a welcome, he said, that must last over time. “Many have tried to return to Ukraine, [but]  many remain and their inclusion is fundamental”. However, he said, the “immediate and affective” concern for the eastern European country must not make people “forget the other pieces of the other world wars”. “Afghanistan, Libya are demanding answers. We must not forget the many people missing in the Mediterranean, the tragedy of migrants. Sometimes the connections are lost”.

No to nuclear weapons

The president of the Italian bishops then assured reporters that the Italian Bishops’ Conference will make every possible effort to ensure that Italy ratifies the UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons. “Once again we are talking about nuclear war again. We cannot get used to this. Accession to the UN treaty is important so that we do not grow accustomed to returning to hypotheses that make us lose the awareness on which Europe was born, the defence of rights”. Similarly, Cardinal Zuppi said, “we cannot get used to war”, which he called a “tragedy” and “a scandal for Christians. With regard to the sending of weapons, the cardinal insisted: “We must not only reason according to the logic of arms. Legitimate defence is a right, but the greatest right is peace”.

27 May 2022, 21:11