ROME – Since the Church’s sex abuse scandals first erupted, victims have tried different methods to be heard by Church authorities. Some have protested, others have marched, others still have appealed to friends and connections in order to bring their case to the Vatican.
But for one Italian survivor, the key was not so much storming the gate as being chained to it.
Arturo Borrelli, 40, claims to have been sexually abused about thirty years ago on the peripheries of Naples, Italy, by his religion teacher Father Silverio Mura. On Feb. 4, he shackled himself to the Sant’Anna entrance of the Vatican in a desperate attempt to be heard.
Police officers arrested him and took him in for questioning, but the unlikely result was that Borrelli was invited to meet officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which handles matters of clerical abuse, at the Vatican ten days later.
In an email sent to the survivor’s lawyer, Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and former Substitute in the Secretariat of State, voiced the “full availability” of the CDF for such a meeting.
Borrelli was finally able to enter the Sant’Anna gate Thursday at 10:00 a.m., where he was greeted by Father Paolo, a priest delegated by Pope Francis to follow his case. (The priest did not give his last name.) At the same time, his lawyer met with CDF officials to present legal documentation.
“I am pleased,” Borrelli told Crux in an interview following his meeting. “Finally, I was welcomed the way I wanted. Since 2010 I have asked for the love of the Church and finally Father Paolo gave it to me.”
Borrelli met Francis in July 2018, when he said he had the chance to tell the pontiff about his abuse. On the same day, Borelli’s eighteen-year-old son died in a car accident leaving him “emotionally wrecked.”
During the meeting on Thursday, Borrelli said he was moved by the opportunity to pray in a chapel for his son with Father Paolo. He was later offered refreshments and spoke of his experience.
The priest promised that a legal decision will be made as soon as May regarding his abuser, Mura, who might be defrocked. While the exact date of the verdict remains unclear, Borrelli said that the CDF is “moving quickly, since they know that my case is a delicate one and I am suffering a lot.”
Chaining oneself to the Vatican is an unorthodox way to gain access, and an impossible prospect for many clerical abuse victims who can’t make it to Rome but still wish to denounce the injustice they suffered. But Father Paolo, Borrelli said, claimed that while “in the past there was another mentality” regarding victims, today “everything has changed.”
For Borrelli, it was perseverance and determination that allowed him to find the closure he long awaited, qualities that he encourages for every victim wishing to be heard to have.
“Whoever has been a victim of abuse must not be afraid to denounce it! Denounce it! Denounce it! Because at the end the truth always emerges,” he said. “There must be no shame. You have to fight!”
The activist and survivor will be in Rome for the upcoming Feb. 21-24 summit of heads of bishops’ conferences on the topic of clerical sexual abuse. He said that he plans to encourage the bishops to adopt legislation that emphasizes the protection of minors and get behind Francis on this issue.
“I trust the pope blindly, because in my case he contributed many times,” Borrelli said. “I hope that those close to him allow him to work. Because if people close to the pope let him do his job surely this battle, that is not easy to fight, can be won.”
Emerging satisfied from the Vatican was also Carlo Grezio, Borrelli’s lawyer for the past four years, who met with two officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – a disciplinary section head Father John Kennedy, and undersecretary Father Matteo Visioli.
“I had their reassurance regarding the timing of the sentence of Father Silvio Mura and a total, definitive, reassurance on the fact that Monsignor Mura is no longer in contact with children or anyone else,” he told Crux in an interview.
Grezio described the meeting as “a victory from one point of view, because we began to obtain what we should have obtained ten years ago when the curia in Naples failed us.”
Borrelli has asked for compensation from the Archdiocese of Naples, led by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, for publishing an official document in 2017 including his name eight times after he had anonymously spoken with media outlets about his abuse.
“In Naples we only received lies,” Grezio said, explaining that after the abuse was reported to the archdiocese Mura was moved from parish to parish, only to be found still in ministry under a false name and teaching catechism to more than 40 children.
The Vatican announced Monday that Francis will be visiting Naples on June 21 to give a speech to the San Luigi Papal Theological Seminary of Southern Italy, Sepe’s titular university.
“We hope that this meeting and invitation received by Pope Francis from Naples may also include a change at the top of the archdiocese and perhaps some decision regarding Arturo and other victims who have come forward,” Grezio said.
The lawyer has been exposed in the past year to a large number of alleged clerical abuse victims in the area, which he said has “a serious problem” when it comes to pedophile priests.
“The problem, which is massive in Italy, has not emerged only because of a reverential fear toward clergy,” Grezio explained.
“The priest usually, and especially in the south, exercises real and actual power. He has the ability to provide sustenance for a family or take it away. He has the ability to determine the failure or success of a business.”
For this reason, he concluded, “this is a country where cases will face tremendous difficulty to emerge.”