ROME — After a direct request from Pope Francis reportedly sparked the opening of a sex abuse investigation against an Italian priest, a survivors’ group in the United States has complained that the pontiff’s actions do not constitute “real reform.”
The story of the letter and subsequent investigation was first reported in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, which identified the victim only as a 39-year-old male with the pseudonym “Diego” from the southern Italian city of Naples.
According to the newspaper account, Diego claimed to have been abused by the Rev. Silverio Mura, a religion teacher in his school, from the age of 11 until he was 17.
The reports say that after psychological treatment, in 2010 Diego decided to take the allegations to the police. Because of a statute of limitations, however, no investigation was ever opened.
In 2011, Diego reportedly went to the auxiliary bishop of Naples, Lucio Lemmo, who promised to take the case to Rome.
A year later, the survivor tried to contact the bishop again with no response. During the summer of that same year, he learned that the priest, who later married him and baptized two of his own children, had been transferred to a parish and was teaching in a different school.
According to a separate La Repubblica report, in March 2014 the survivor sent a letter to Pope Francis, accusing Lemmo and Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples of ignoring his allegations for more than four years.
Some weeks later, Diego received a response signed by Italian Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the No. 2 official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. It acknowledged receipt of the letter and that it had been “delivered to the corresponding dicastery (Vatican office).”
On Nov. 14, Diego received an e-mail from the local Naples hierarchy setting an appointment for Dec. 3 to talk about “all matters related to the complaint you submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith against Rev. Silverio Mura.”
The Rev. Luigi Ortagli, judicial vicar, and (Don) Orlando Barba, vice chancellor of the Naples Curia, took Diego’s statement.
Speaking to La Reppublica afterwards, Diego said that “during the audience, the vicar explained to me that the pope, through the Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith], requested the diocese to do some investigations.”
In March, Diego agreed to speak to the Washington Post and said he was dumbstruck to learn that Pope Francis himself had intervened in the case.
“Do you know what it’s like, after trying to be heard, to have the pope — the pope! — finally hear you?” Diego said.
On Monday, however, the leading activist group for clerical abuse survivors in the United States played down the significance of the pope’s action.
“Two phone calls do not constitute real reform,” read a statement from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “We endanger children and help predators if we let two phone calls diminish pressure for substantive change.”
The reference was to a separate case in Granada, Spain, where Pope Francis called an abuse victim who had written him to encourage the victim to make a report, setting an investigation into motion.
SNAP said the abuse scandals in Catholicism remain an “on-going, massive global crisis – involving both continuing clergy sex crimes and cover ups – [which] requires a massive and global response,” centered on reporting all crimes to law enforcement and punishing those who fail to do so.
During the first two years of his pontificate, Francis has created a papal commission to press for reform on clerical sex abuse and the protection of minors, has met with victims of abuser priests, and has pledged himself to zero tolerance.
He’s also launched a criminal procedure against a former archbishop and papal diplomat accused of paying underage boys for sexual acts in the Dominican Republic, defrocked an Argentinian priest over allegations of abusing minors, and authorized an investigation of Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City-St. Joseph, to date the lone American bishop to acknowledge criminal responsibility for failure to report child abuse.
Yet critics says he’s also made some missteps.
Last January, for instance, he transferred Chilean Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid, Chile’s military chaplain, to the diocese of Osorno. The transfer caused an uproar in the diocese because Barros publicly defended the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a Chilean priest condemned by the Vatican to a life of “penitence and prayer,” after he had been found guilty of sexually abusing minors.
Francis’ latest stand on the fight against clerical sex abuse came on March 13, when he told Mexican network Televisa that abuses are a “grave problem” and that “one priest abusing a minor is reason enough to move the Church’s whole structure.”