Good evening, thank you for the invitation to participate in this important event.
A little over a year ago, on December 17, 2019, the pope finally lifted the papal secrecy on pedophilia cases handled by the Vatican involving priests. The civil magistracies of all countries affected by this criminal phenomenon can now therefore access the acts of canonical processes and the archives of the dioceses. But not only that. The elimination of pontifical secrecy probably also marks a turning point in terms of communication on “sensitive” issues concerning the internal affairs of the Holy See. I am thinking, for example, of the decision to make public the dossier on Cardinal MacCarrick, which has been much discussed in recent months. I would define this as a side effect of the elimination of papal secrecy. This elimination is undoubtedly an important signal in the direction of transparency and collaboration of the Holy See with foreign and international institutions, and may have important consequences in favor of the victims awaiting justice. But from the point of view of crime prevention, it should be said immediately that it does not change anything. Let’s go in order.
Papal secrecy was codified in the document “Secreta continere” of Paul VI on February 4, 1974. It concerned (and I quote) “certain matters of major importance” and had to “be guarded with grave obligation”. That is to say, in case of violation there was excommunication. Among these secreted “affairs of greater importance” were several crimes, including violence against minors. This meant, for example, that the victim of a pedophile priest undergoing a canonical trial was never informed of the outcome of the judgment. But also that the names of pedophiles judged by Vatican judges could remain “unknown” to lay judges. With obvious consequences, unfortunately, on the safety of tens of thousands of minors around the world, since pedophile priests, after the period of prayer and penance provided as a penalty for their “sin”, almost always return to practice in parishes, to teach in religious schools, to attend oratories, scout camps and so on. As it has been documented by dozens of governmental and mixed State-Church investigations in the last decade in Ireland, Germany, USA, Holland, Belgium, Auystralia etc… In short, secrecy has been for decades – if not for centuries, since the Inquisition – one of the matrices of the spread of clerical pedophilia in the world. Now, with a guilty and unprecedented delay, the Holy See has at least remedied this.
Another matrix of the spread of “ecclesiastical” pedophilia was and is the “reason of State”.
Let me explain myself better with a quick example:
On April 9, 2010 – the year in which news about these crimes finally began to be published regularly in Italy as well – the Washington Post discovered that in 1985 Cardinal Ratzinger (then pref. of the CDF) had advised against reducing to the lay state a California priest who had molested minors. The response of the Holy See was immediate: the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “did not cover up the case”, but only asked to study it with “greater attention” for the “good of all those involved”. In the long investigation, the WP reconstructs that, in a letter written in Latin to Bishop John Cummins, of the Diocese of Oakland, Ratzinger decided not to remove the priest. A choice that the future Pope motivated by writing verbatim “for the good of the universal Church”. And what does that mean translated into more earthly terms? To avoid public scandal. Hence the “reason of State”.
For decades, in the name of “reason of State” and protected by papal secrecy, a very violent crime against the most defenseless human beings was buried under a gigantic and widespread cloak of silence, complicity and silence impossible – humanly speaking – to accept. It must be said, however, that if papal secrecy has been eliminated, the same cannot be said of the reason of State.
All this concerns Italy very closely and not only for geographical reasons. In the weekly magazine Left, and then in the book Giustizia divina with Emanuela Provera, we were the first and so far the only journalists, thanks to the collaboration of the L’Abuso network, to pierce the aforementioned cloak over the ecclesiastical courts scattered throughout Italy and present in each of the more than 220 dioceses. Here is an excerpt from the story of Giada Vitale, a victim at the age of 13 of a 55-year-old parish priest.
“There were three of us in the room: me, the judge and the notary of the Curia of Termoli. I already knew the notary, because before the hearing he told me that the ecclesiastical judge wanted a copy of my complaint to the Italian prosecutor’s office. This shows the way in which ecclesiastical justice works with the presumed victims. Moreover, Giada faced the interrogation alone, that is without a lawyer, because in these processes only the one chosen by the curia can be present, even for the witness. And she rightly refused him. “The judge was trying to get me to say that I felt affection for my rapist but I only wanted to point out that when the abuse began I was thirteen years old.” About five years have passed since the hearing and Giada has never heard anything on the record. “I was never notified of the outcome of the trial nor do I know how my statements were used.”
Thanks to the abolition of papal secrecy, will other victims, unlike Giada, from now on know the outcome of the canonical judgment? According to the declarations of the Holy See, the answer is yes, and this would already be something in favor of the victims, because certain information could be useful to them during the Italian criminal and civil process. But what should perhaps be of most interest to us is the possibility of collaboration between the ecclesiastical authorities and the Italian civil authorities. From this point of view, however, Bergoglio’s “turning point” moves nothing. I might say, not because of the pope. In fact, the Italian law – unlike the French one, for example – for crimes of this type provides the obligation to report only for public officials, and bishops who are not public officials continue to do what they have always done: that is, not to report suspected priests to the civil authorities. This issue was also reiterated by the Italian Episcopal Conference when it explained why it did not include the obligation to report in the anti-pedophilia guidelines.
If we add to this the fact that also the New Concordat of 1985 between the Italian State and the Holy See, in its article 4, relieves the bishops from the obligation to collaborate with the civil authority, all the nodes that have always strongly limited the investigations of the Italian judiciary when there are priests involved, with the risk of interfering with the exercise of criminal prosecution against those suspected of pedophilia and the “superiors” who transfer them from parish to parish allowing them to remain in contact with minors and repeat the abuse, remain unresolved.
The elimination of art. 4 from the Concordat would not be a small matter. This is also stated by the cases surveyed by Rete L’Abuso and the statistics that Francesco Zanardi communicated during his speech. Personally, I have dedicated an entire book to Italy reconstructing the history of pedophilia in the Italian Church from 1870 to 2014.
Since I wrote my first book for L’Asino d’oro on these issues in 2010, I have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of victims. The lives of many of them continue as a function of obtaining justice for what they have suffered. There are those who – like those present – have founded an association, transforming their personal vicissitudes into a collective battle for civilization. One of the strengths of their civil commitment – perhaps the most important because it is unassailable – in my opinion lies in having understood that the real “enemy” to be fought lies in the thinking that still denies the violence suffered by the child. That is, the thought that confuses a crime (very violent against a person) with sin. In fact, we know from the psychiatrist Fagioli that pedophilia is the annulment of the human reality of the child, a sort of psychic murder.
However, even in the Church of Pope Francis, abuse, that is, “the sexual act of a cleric with a minor,” is still treated only as a crime against morality, an offense against God, a violation of the sixth commandment. Consequently, the sinner must answer only to those who represent the Most High on Earth (the Pope), and not to the laws of the civil society to which he belongs. Well, all this is not taken into account by my fellow Italian journalists when they have to report news about alleged crimes against minors committed in the ecclesiastical sphere; and neither does the Italian State take it into account by keeping the Concordat alive, although since 1996 the legislation on crimes of a “sexual” nature against children (and women) has made enormous progress. What consequences this blindness of our institutions has on the safety of children who attend parishes, oratories, minor seminaries and Catholic schools is not only easy to imagine but has been – unfortunately – documented.
Therefore, in conclusion, the abolition of the pontifical secret is a good thing – because in some way it can facilitate the action of the civil judiciary – but it is not enough. At least in Italy it is not enough. It would take a cultural paradigm shift that would lead the Vatican, the men of the Church, the Italian institutions and the great organs of the press to “see” rape for what it is: a violent crime that destroys the life of those who suffer it. But this would mean for believers to deny the Sixth Commandment, one of the cornerstones of religious and political power of the Catholic and Roman Apostolic Church. A temporal power that the Italian State and the Italian media still struggle to disavow.