ROME – Incredibly enough, on April 25th self-professed pedophiles online celebrate “Alice Day” to promote the normalization of the sexual abuse of minors. For the past 23 years, a priest from a small southern Italian diocese has launched a global initiative on the same day to raise awareness for the protection of minors.
“The strength of an initiative is given by its continuity,” said Father Fortunato Di Noto, founder of Meter Onlus dedicated to protecting children from abuse, in an interview with Crux April 25.
Di Noto knows a thing or two about continuity, having been at the forefront in the battle against sexual abuse of minors worldwide and on the web since 1989. Among the first to understand the dangers lurking underneath the surface of the internet, the Sicilian priest dedicated his life to awakening consciences to this widespread aberration.
“We realized between 1993 and ’94 that pedophiles online, and still today, covered by general indifference, celebrate two days of pedophilia pride,” he said, speaking of a “pedophile liberation front that has branches worldwide.”
In response to this attempt to “normalize” the sexual abuse of minors – specifically between the ages of 0 to 13 – Di Noto began to discuss the phenomenon during his homilies at Mass and invited the congregation to pray for the many young victims.
“In the beginning, as always, there was distrust,” he said about members of his parish and even state authorities raising an eyebrow at this priest discussing a topic that was generally unknown or willfully ignored.
“Year after year, the awareness grew,” Di Noto said, “But maybe because of my Sicilian stubbornness we continued. I couldn’t, as a citizen committed to protecting children, not try and do something.”
From that moment, his mission has been to ensure that states provide better legislation and protections for children and combat the disguised efforts to normalize pedophilia. The law in Italy protecting minors from online advances from abusers is named after Di Noto.
Both Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis made a point of recognizing the “Day for Child Victims of Violence, Exploitation and Indifference against Pedophilia” launched by Di Noto in 1995. This year’s theme is, “Safeguard me Always.”
In the beginning, only Di Noto and another person would come to the pope’s Wednesday general audience waiving the yellow flag of Meter Onlus. Today, over 500 people come to the Vatican in order to take a stand in defense of the defenseless.
More than 40 dioceses in Italy, and many more worldwide from Spain to Argentina and Madagascar, have joined Meter in making April 25-May 5 days dedicated to raising awareness of the global reality that is pedophilia. Di Noto sends out prayers all over Italy and the world inviting faithful and non-believers.
“I am Christian, and I believe in the power of prayer, for this reason I want to get people to pray together,” he said.
Though the priest is happy that more and more people have become aware of the problem, he is also aware of the importance of moving from “an emergency reaction to a daily commitment,” also within the Church.
“If on one side awareness increases, on the other we are still not addressing the problem correctly,” Di Noto said. “Some remain silent, others don’t want to be involved and say that it’s something that does not concern them.”
Given the massive number of victims and the scope of the phenomenon, the priest believes that a serious and prolonged commitment is necessary.
“Whether you want it or not, this priest from the South is setting a challenge,” he said, one that the Italian Episcopal Conference has only recently accepted.
Italian bishops, under Francis’s request, have been asked to provide new guidelines for the protection of minors focusing on prevention and have created a national network aimed at helping victims to come forward and bishops to address the cases.
Meter offered support and council for both initiatives.
“The Church is like an elephant – sure, it can be agile, just like elephants run in the Savannah – but it’s nonetheless a massive creature,” Di Noto said.
In Italy alone there are more than 200 dioceses, each with their traditions and cultural differences, and implementing child protection policies all over the world represents an even bigger struggle.
“This doesn’t mean that it hasn’t slowly, gradually and with difficulty engaged and taken measures,” he recognized, “but on the other hand, there is a Church of offices that struggle to tackle the problem because of bureaucratization.”
Regardless of this reality, Di Noto said that there is also “a people on the move, which lives outside of the places and palaces, and that in communion with its bishop is capable of enacting prevention measures for the protection of children.”
Meter, with its 15 employees and more than 400 volunteers, uses its limited resources to provide “clear and transparent services” to help victims, families and society.
In the past 15 years, Meter has monitored more than three million sites, reported 280 thousand pedophile sites to the authorities and supported 23 national and international police actions against pedo-criminality. They have accompanied 1,600 victims and given thousands of talks in dioceses, schools and conferences.
“I didn’t just try once and stop,” Di Noto said about his decade-long efforts, “and I’m just a parish priest!”