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Italy's top official on Church sex abuse slams France's independent commission

Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni harshly criticizes French bishops for allowing "people who know nothing about the life of the Church" to investigate and report on sex abuse


by Loup Besmond de Senneville | Italy

The Catholic bishop who oversees clergy sex abuse cases in Italy has issued a stinging criticism of his confreres in France for allowing an independent commission to investigate abuse in their Church.

"We will not project data or take a sampling, as other ecclesial entities have done, with figures that only attract those who want to stir up trouble," said Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni, head of the child protection office of Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), during a conference on Saturday at the Pontifical Lateran University, entitled "On the Side of the Victims".

The 67-year-old archbishop's comments, which were reported by the ANSA news agency, were seen as an implicit criticism of France's Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE). The commission published a devastating report in October 2021 that said an estimated 216,000 children were abused by priests and religious between 1950 and 2020.

This method "has produced damage elsewhere""We are not going to create a single national commission made up of people who know nothing about the life of the Church, who are only qualified as objective because they are neither bishops, nor priests, nor believers," continued Ghizzoni, who has headed the northern Italian archdiocese of Ravenna since 2012. He said such a national commission "has produced damage elsewhere" and "must not be imitated". "We will look at the actual data and try to find ways of prevention," he continued. "What interests us is not pillorying priests, but preventing abuse."His remarks came just two days after the CEI presented its first-ever report on Church-related sexual abuse in Italy. It said 89 alleged victims had come forward during the one-year period between 2020 and 2021 to report abuse.

The CEI text said the cases of another 613 Italian victims had been sent in recent years to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is responsible for investigating sexual abuse of minors."

We are not very interested in numbers if they are not for prevention," Archbishop Ghizzoni told La Croix in March. "We want a qualitative analysis, not a quantitative one, to know our strengths and weaknesses," he said.

"Questionable" dataThe CEI has adopted an in-house approach and is basing its reporting on cases that are already known, either because they are the result of denunciations made to diocesan listening centers, or because they have reached the Vatican. This is not the first time that Italian bishops have criticized CIASE, portraying the method chosen by the French bishops as a counter-example that should not be followed in order to tackle the scourge of pedocriminality in the Church.

"Some of the data can be really questionable, as we have seen in France, and we don't want to create controversy," said Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the CEI president, last May. "We will take our responsibilities. But in fact, we have already taken them," he claimed back then. "As far as (CIASE's) research in France is concerned, I have received three surveys conducted by academics that demolish it," he said a month later in an interview with the Rome-based daily La Repubblica.


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