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CRIME

‘Now or never’: Victims of Italy’s predator priests push for abuse inquiry

Victims of paedophile priests on Tuesday unveiled a campaign for Italy to hold an independent investigation into abuse carried out on the Vatican's doorstep.

'Now or never': Victims of Italy's predator priests push for abuse inquiry
A file photo shows St Peter's square at the Vatican. Campaigners in Italy say the country must now investigate sex abuse and cover-ups within the church. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE

As inquiries across the United States, Europe and Australia have exposed the scale of the sex abuse problem and cover-ups within the Church, campaigners say Italy can no longer avoid scrutiny.

“The government must act, must take advantage of the momentum created by impartial investigations elsewhere,” Francesco Zanardi, founder of Rete l’Abuso (Abuse Network), told AFP.

“If Italy doesn’t do it now, I fear it never will,” said Zanardi, who was abused by a priest as a young teen.

Nine groups are now forming a consortium aimed at putting pressure on the country to launch a probe like the ones seen recently in France and Germany.

Cristina Balestrini, who set up a support group for families after her son was abused by a priest, told AFP that the most important thing for survivors was “to make sure it never happens again”.

“There are many victims who commit suicide, and no one knows about it,” Balestrini said.

Rete L’Abuso has recorded more than 300 cases of priests accused or convicted of child sexual abuse in the past 15 years in Italy, out of a total of 50,000 priests across the country.

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Giada Vitale is just one example the group cites. She was a shy 13-year old organ player when her parish priest, Marino Genova, abused her in the vestry. She was molested for three years.

Vitale’s tormentor was convicted in 2020, but victim groups say such a conviction is rare because Italy lags behind other countries in tackling predators.

Precise figures on the scale of the problem are impossible to come by.

The Vatican’s top clerical abuse advisor told AFP this month it was time for the Catholic-majority country to hold its own reckoning.

The church is not as powerful as it once was in Italy, but it retains a huge influence and two-thirds of the population are believers according to a 2019 survey.

Pope Francis, who has toughened the punishments meted out to abusing priests under Vatican law, on Monday streamlined the Vatican office that processes abuse complaints, in an attempt to expedite cases.

But Zanardi of Rete l’Abuso said he “would have little faith” in an in-house investigation.

Balestrini, 56, is also distrustful of the church since “they acted as if we were the enemy, making us victims twice over” after her teenage son was abused in 2011.

The cleric in question, Mauro Galli, as initially quietly moved to another parish. He would later be convicted.

She hopes the consortium will be able to pressure the church to open its archives, because the scandal, she said, “is much bigger than you can imagine”.

Balestrini said unearthing the truth would not be easy for Italy, but the church would be wise to take an active role in cleaning itself up.

“At the moment, they are trying to keep a lid on it, but it’s better to choose to take the lid off yourself, than have it blown off.”

CRIME

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

Italian police on Saturday arrested a mafia member suspected of killing two alleged Chinese prostitutes and a Colombian sex worker in Rome, local media reported.

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

The bodies of the two Chinese women were discovered in a residential building in the upmarket Prati district on Thursday morning, while the body of the South American was found in an apartment in the same neighbourhood an hour later.

All three victims were stabbed, according to Italian media reports.

According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, footage from surveillance cameras allowed police to identify 51-year-old Giandavide De Pau, who had been prosecuted in the past for drug trafficking and sexual assault.

The suspect is reportedly a member of a mafia clan headed by Michele Senese, who is currently serving a life sentence. De Pau is believed to have been one of Senese’s closest collaborators, acting as his personal driver and handyman.

In 2008 and 2011, the suspect had also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

It is unknown whether the suspected killer was carrying out a mafia hit or acting alone, possibly under the influence of drugs, which were found at the home of some family members where he is believed to have sought refuge after the police manhunt got underway, Corriere della Sera reported.

Several newspapers had warned of a possible “serial killer” in the Italian capital.

The body of one of the Chinese victims was spotted by a neighbour where it lay, naked on a landing. The woman, believed to be in her 40s, had suffered head and stomach injuries, the newspaper said.

When police entered her apartment, they found the body of the second Chinese woman.

Nobody in the building appeared to have heard the murders take place, according to residents.

“Everybody knew there was a house of ill repute here, I’d see people arriving at 2:00 am, 3:00 am,” a woman who lived in the building told reporters.

The body of the Colombian, who was 65, was found by a friend, Corriere della Sera said.

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