Victims call Italy Church's abuse report 'shamefully' limited

Francesco Zanardi, 51, a victim of church sexual abuse, and founder and president of Rete l'Abuso (The Abuse Network), poses for a photograph after holding a flash mob outside the Vatican embassy to Italy, calling for an investigation into sexual abuse in the Italian Catholic Church, in Rome, Italy, May 27, 2022. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

VATICAN CITY, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Italy's Catholic Church on Thursday released its first report on alleged sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable individuals but victims' advocates said the number of cases was likely much higher and denounced its limited scope as shameful.

The 41-page report, the first of two, covers only 2020-21. A second, promised report will cover abuse going back to 2000, although it is not clear when that will be released.

Victims have called for a thorough outside investigation going back many decades, such as those in France and Germany.

The report on 2020-21, which covers cases reported during those years but not necessarily taking place in that time, was done by a Catholic university in northern Italy. It said 89 people presumably had been abused by 68 alleged abusers, including priests as well as lay people such as church workers and religion teachers.

The data stemmed from "listening centres" in dioceses and is limited to information from those who came forward. About 53 percent of the alleged cases were recent and the others took place in the past, although the report did not specify when.

"This is absolutely unsatisfactory and shameful," said Francesco Zanardi, 51, head of Rete l'Abuso (The Abuse Network), which has one of the largest digital archives on clerical sexual abuse in Italy.

"It was already shameful that the (second study) would cover only cases from 2000 onwards," he told Reuters from his home in northern Italy.

Still, Zanardi said the report's numbers were significantly higher than he expected.

"If these numbers are correct, they are already high, but the real numbers are higher," he said. Extrapolating on statistics in the report, the number of victims in the last 22 years would be at least 2,000, he said.

Church leaders presenting the report at a news conference defended it.

"It is just a start," said Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni, adding that he expected more victims to step forward as the reporting system involved and became more victim friendly.

He said the Italian Church wanted to make it easier for victims to come forward, including locating the "listening centres" outside Church buildings that could be intimidating, and having them staffed by lay people, particularly women.

Father Gianluca Marchetti, a abuse expert from northern Italy, told the new conference that the listening centres did not intend to discourage victims from going directly to civil authorities and encouraged them to do so.

Victims groups in Italy have expressed frustration with the Church for years. They have called for an overarching independent investigation going back to at least part of the past century, when much of the abuse took place in the post-World War Two period.

Zanardi was abused by a priest before 2000, meaning his case would not figure in the next report. His group says Church authorities either failed to intervene, covered up, or acted too late to stop abuse from being repeated.

The worldwide sexual abuse crisis has done massive damage to the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church and cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements, with some dioceses in other countries declaring bankruptcy.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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