New Italian church head faces demands for abuse inquiry

May 23, 2022, 5:40 PM | Updated: May 24, 2022, 7:59 am
FILE - Cardinal Matteo Zuppi poses for photographers at the Vatican, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Pope F...

FILE - Cardinal Matteo Zuppi poses for photographers at the Vatican, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Pope Francis on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 named a bishop in his own image, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, as the new head of the Italian bishops conference, as the Italian Catholic Church comes under mounting pressure to confront its own legacy of clerical sexual abuse with an independent inquest. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)

(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Tuesday named a bishop in his own image, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, as the new head of the Italian bishops conference, as the Italian Catholic Church comes under mounting pressure to confront its legacy of clerical sexual abuse with an independent inquiry.

Francis’ widely expected choice was announced during the second day of the spring meeting of the conference. Zuppi, 66, is currently the archbishop of Bologna and has long been affiliated with the Sant’Egidio Community, a Catholic charity particularly close to Francis.

The Italian Catholic Church is one of the few in western Europe that has not opened its archives to independent researchers to establish the scope of abuse and cover-up in recent decades. Whether by government mandate, parliamentary investigation or church initiation, such reports in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France, for example, have shown systematic problems that allowed thousands of children to be abused by Catholic priests. The churches in Spain and Portugal have recently agreed to launch similar investigations.

But the Italian church has so far resisted demands from survivors and advocacy groups to follow suit, though conference officials have said they were awaiting the appointment of a new president this month before announcing anything.

Zuppi’s outgoing predecessor, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, referred to the issue in general in his final speech Tuesday but made no commitments. “We intend to promote a better understanding of the phenomenon of abuse to evaluate and make measures of protection and prevention more efficient,” Bassetti said.

Zuppi generally receives positive marks from the progressive wing of the church, in particular from the LGBTQ community. He wrote the preface to the Italian edition of the book “Building Bridges,” by the American Jesuit, the Rev. James Martin, about the need for the church to reach out more to gay Catholics.

“We hope his nomination represents a true turning point for the church,” said a leader of the Italian LGBTQ community, Franco Grillini, on Instagram.

But Italian advocates for clergy abuse victims were less convinced he would commission a comprehensive, independent inquiry based on church archives. Current proposals in the conference have focused on a more limited, in-house inquiry.

“We reject in advance any hypothesis of work carried out with tools and resources internal to the church itself, which would not have the necessary characteristics of third party and would be non-credible, deficient and ultimately useless, if not harmful,” members of the #ItalyChurchToo movement wrote in an open letter to the conference leadership ahead of Zuppi’s appointment.

In recent days two new books have come out documenting the problem in the pope’s backyard, while a new national newspaper, Domani, has begun a regular series on “Violence in the Italian Church,” backed by a crowd-funding initiative.

The aim of the series “is to lift the veil of hypocrisy thanks to which the Italian Bishops Conference, aided by the wink-wink of the national media, manages to make people believe that the problem exists only in other countries,” Domani said in its crowd-funding appeal.

The reluctance of Italy’s establishment media to expose the problem has been cited by Lucetta Scaraffia, a former editor of the Vatican’s women’s magazine, as one of the reasons the issue hasn’t reached a crisis point yet in heavily Catholic Italy.

She and journalist Franca Giansoldati and historian Anna Foa recently published “Lamb of God,” recounting the cases of abuse in the Italian church that have been gathered by the main advocacy resource group, Rete l’Abuso (Abuse Network), which is a founding member of the #ItalyChurchToo movement.

Scaraffia said the network’s archive showed a pattern in which typically poor children from families reliant on the church were victimized by predator priests who selected them precisely because of their vulnerability. The church managed to save the priests by turning to powerful lawyers who offered minimal payouts from 15,000-25,000 euros to the needy families if they opted against filing a criminal complaint, she said.

“Unfortunately in Italy, the faithful in first place but then the rest of society aren’t interested. The newspapers don’t talk about it ever or just briefly, and then just the gory details in the local section,” she said in an email.

Iacopo Scaramuzzi, author of “Sex of the Angels,” about the church’s internal debates on abuse, feminism and gays, said Zuppi has been more open to dealing with matters of sexual morality than other Italian bishops. But he noted that Italian bishops and society as a whole are reticent on the issue and “very late in the awareness of the crisis of sexual abuse.”

“I hope that he will have the courage to choose a path — an independent commission on abuses that occurred in the context of the sole Italian Church — which would be looked upon with respect by other European countries that have already taken this path … and that finally brings justice to the survivors,” he said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Quincey Johnson, left, outreach director Upper Missouri Waterkeeper in Bozeman, Mont., and Martin L...
Associated Press

Enviros train drone pilots to find and pursue pollution

POOLESVILLE, Md. (AP) — When environmentalist Brent Walls saw a milky-white substance in a stream flowing through a rural stretch of central Pennsylvania, he suspected the nearby rock mine was violating the law. Recent rains had filled the ponds at the mine that allow sediment to settle out of the water, but Walls couldn’t easily […]
1 day ago
FLE - A line of Spirit Airlines jets sit on the tarmac at the Orlando International Airport on May ...
Associated Press

Merger vote at Spirit could reshape discount airline market

DALLAS (AP) — The prospect of a takeover of Spirit Airlines threatens to upend the cheap-fare end of the industry much like a series of mergers among big airlines reduced choices for travelers. Spirit is the largest budget airline in the United States, but its days as a stand-alone company appear numbered. The big question […]
1 day ago
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on T...
Associated Press

Powell: ‘No guarantee’ Fed can tame inflation, spare jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said there’s “no guarantee” the central bank can tame runaway inflation without hurting the job market. Speaking Wednesday at a European Central Bank forum in Sintra, Portugal, Powell repeated his hope that the Fed can achieve a so-called soft landing — raising interest rates just enough to […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Ex-Coast Guard employee pleads guilty in test-fixing case

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former U.S. Coast Guard employee has pleaded guilty in a test score-fixing scheme that happened over seven years at an exam center in Louisiana, federal prosecutors said. U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans, in a news release Tuesday, said Eldridge Johnson entered the plea June 23 to one count each of […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

ASEAN special envoy begins second visit to Myanmar

BANGKOK (AP) — Cambodia’s foreign minister arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday on his second visit as a special envoy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the country, which has been mired in violence and civil unrest since the military seized power last year. State-run television MRTV reported that Prak Sokhonn and his party […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

PARIS (AP) — A Paris court on Wednesday ruled against extraditing to Italy 10 former left-wing militants, including some former Red Brigades members, convicted of domestic terrorist crimes in the 1970s and 1980s. The Italian nationals had been living in freedom in France for decades after fleeing Italy before they could be imprisoned to serve […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
New Italian church head faces demands for abuse inquiry