ROME – As the doors on the first day of a month-long summit of bishops on young people closed Wednesday, groups that see themselves as excluded, including women and sex abuse victims, protested outside, calling the Church “to close shop or get real.”
“Close this useless synod or change things for real. The bishops covering up abuse, we all know who they are, [should] resign,” Alessandro Battaglia, who said he was sexually abused by a priest in 2011, told Crux in an interview.
Battaglia was at a sit-in event organized by Rete L’Abuso, a new Italian network acting as a watchdog on abuse, which took place at Castel Sant’Angelo just a stone’s throw away from St. Peter’s.
It was staged Wednesday because it was the opening day of an Oct. 3-28 gathering of prelates from around the world, called a Synod of Bishops, devoted to the theme of young people, faith and vocational discernment.
Just outside the synod hall, another group of protesters, this time women advocating for further female inclusion, called out bishops and the pope by name to open doors to women’s voices.
“Knock, Knock!” they chanted, “who’s there? More than half the Church!” before police officers ushered them away.
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Primate of all Ireland, and Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry in Northern Ireland greeted the women protesters, joining them for a few moments before entering the Vatican.
All things considered, the summit started with a bang, with activity bustling both inside and outside the Vatican halls.
At the age of 15, Battaglia said he was abused by Father Mauro Galli at the parish of Rozzano on the outskirts of Milan. Despite family and parish priests informing then-vicar general Monsignor Mario Delpini, now the Archbishop of Milan, about the abuse, Galli was moved to a parish only 12 miles away, where he had access to youth.
“Tell me if this isn’t criminal behavior,” said Battaglia, who was wearing a white t-shirt saying that he was a victim of abuse.
Galli was convicted in September and sentenced to six years and four months in prison, but Battaglia said he’s still outraged that Delpini continued to climb the ecclesiastical ladder with his appointment to Milan.
“For me this is ridiculous, ridiculous to the limit of reason. With what courage do they do something like this?” Battaglia said. “We are here today to ask that Pope Francis keep his word, and that when he speaks of zero tolerance it really means zero tolerance.”
The 22-year-old survivor grew up going to Mass, he said, was an altar boy, sang in the choir and even became a Boy Scout, which in Italy is closely tied to the Catholic Church.
“They hurt me too much. I don’t trust any one of them,” he said. “I don’t have faith in this Church, I haven’t seen a change for too long and instead I see criminality and mafia.”
“Is our life not important? My life is obviously not important,” he stated, adding that he tried to commit suicide four times.
Another abuse survivor, Arturo Borrelli, called for victims to unite and speak their voice, calling justice a “perfect medicine.” Borrelli said he was abused along with other children by Father Silverio Mura in Naples.
“We do it for the good of the Church, it’s not to go up against the Church,” he said in an interview with Crux, encouraging bishops gathering for the synod next door to put words into actions.
Rete L’Abuso held a conference Wednesday morning at the headquarters of the Radical Party in Rome, where they announced that they would charge the Italian government with complicity and ask it to launch a full investigation of sexual abuse and cover-up.
“This is the last step, now it’s up to the judges to verify which are the crimes with which the Italian government has soiled itself,” organizers of the conference said. “We are offering leeway to all categories of pedophiles, priests and non-priests.”
Victims of Father Nicola Corradi, who’s charged with sexually abusing deaf people both in Italy and in Argentina, were also present at the conference along with foreign representatives of organizations fighting abuse.
The general attitude toward Pope Francis was less than cozy at the event, and organizers invited the Argentinian pontiff to go beyond rhetoric on abuse and bring forth actual change.
“The propaganda of Pope Francis is just that, propaganda,” said Marco Verrazzini, a lawyer focusing on abuse charges in Italy. “On one side he promises something, and on the other he does something else.”