‘We Won’t Imitate France’s Report on Sexual Abuse,’ Says Italian Bishop Responsible for Protection of Minors

Speaking at a conference in Rome in support of victims of sexual abuse, Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni challenged the legitimacy of commissions ‘composed of people who know nothing about the life of the Church.’

Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Ravenna-Cervia takes part in the Pallium Mass with Pope Francis on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul at St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29, 2013.
Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Ravenna-Cervia takes part in the Pallium Mass with Pope Francis on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul at St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29, 2013. (photo: Franco Origlia / Getty Images)

A unprecedented challenge has been dealt to the credibility of the French Report on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church issued in 2021 — this time by the Delegate for the National Commission of the Italian Bishops for the protection of minors. 

Speaking at a Nov. 19 conference, themed “On the Side of the Victims,” Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Ravenna-Cervia in northern Italy made clear that the Italian review process of past handling of sexual abuse cases would not follow the methodology of the French report, which he said “has caused damage” and “should not be imitated.” 

Referring to a press conference in Rome on Nov. 17, where the initial report on the protection of minors in Italian dioceses was discussed, Archbishop Ghizzoni mentioned “aggressive journalists” who pressed for estimates of the incidence of abuse in past decades.

The sexual abuse conference, organized by the Diocese of Rome at the Lateran Pontifical University, took place on the occasion of the National Day of Prayer of the Italian Church for the victims and survivors of sexual abuse. It was attended by survivors of sexual abuse who shared their testimonies, as well as Church officials such as Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the vicar general for the Diocese of Rome, and Auxiliary Bishop Baldassarre Reina, Don Fortunato Di Noto, the president of the anti-pedophilia association Meter, and Vittoria Lugli, diocesan representative for the Service for the Protection of Minors. 

In a thinly veiled reference to the French Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), which focused on the period between 1950 and 2020, Archbishop Ghizzoni said that “[the Italian Bishops’ Conference] will not make data projections or sampling as is done in other Church realities, with figures that please those who want to sow discord.”

He criticized the French report’s methodology of entrusting the process of review and reporting to external commissions “composed of people who know nothing about the life of the Church, and whose supposed objectivity would lie in the mere fact that they are neither bishops, nor priests, nor faithful.” 

Reaffirming the refusal of the Italian Bishops’ Conference to set up a “national commission,” as was the case in France, Archbishop Ghizzoni claimed that they were “not interested in pillorying priests and bishops.” 

In contrast, he stressed the need for dioceses to work “more and more with other agencies operating on the ground to counter the phenomenon of sexual abuse.”

These pointed comments, although not explicitly aimed at the French bishops, did not go unnoticed on the other side of the Alps, and were labeled by French Catholic newspaper La Croix as a “frontal criticism of the CIASE” by the Italian archbishop. 

While this criticism by a prominent member of the Church hierarchy was indeed unprecedented at the international level, the methodology of the CIASE report, as well as the independence of its members have been repeatedly questioned in France since its publication.

Last November, one month after the publication of the report, eight members of the prestigious French Catholic Academy sent Pope Francis a 15-page study in which they challenged the lack of scientific rigor of the investigation led by the commission, most notably regarding the methodology of the quantitative survey that led to the contested estimate of 330,000 victims of sexual abuse. The signatories also challenged the “narrative of a ‘systemic character,’” which they said “lays the groundwork for proposals to bring down the Church-institution.” 

In a January 2022 interview with the Register, Catholic philosopher and member of the academy Pierre Manent warned that this “systemic” dimension called into question the institution of the Church itself, and that the CIASE members’ recommendations could lead, if not to the ruin of the local Church, at least to its being delegitimized as a spiritual institution, and to the deconstruction of the figure of the priest. 

The Catholic Academy’s document prompted the Holy Father to cancel the private audience he was scheduled to grant to the members of the CIASE commission one month later.