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An Italian abuse survivor’s “pilgrimage of truth”

October 12, 2011


The dictionary defines a pilgrimage as “a journey, especially a long one made to some sacred space as an act of religious devotion”.  It is also known as “any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage”.

The National Catholic Reporter published an article this week describing the pilgrimage undertaken by Francesco Zanardi.  Zanardi set out on foot from the seaside community of Savona, Italy.  Savona is a port city in northern Italy which was once the home of the explorer Christopher Columbus.

Zanardi left Savona on September 22nd, journeying nineteen days, and walking almost 350 miles before reaching his destination in Rome.  He traveled with Alberto Sala who leads an organization that is dedicated to caring for abused children.  Francesco Zanardi had a special mission, and it was to hand deliver a letter to Pope Benedict XVI.  Zanardi, now 41, was sexually abused by a Catholic priest when he was ten years old.  He wanted to make a plea to the Pope, asking him to meet Italian victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Zanardi noted that the Pope has met with victims of clergy abuse in many countries, including the United States, England, Australia, and Germany.  Yet he has chosen not to meet with those who reside closest to him.  In addition to meeting with Italian victims Zanardi expressed his belief that the Pope should investigate all reports of sexual abuse, defrock known abusers, and turn over church documents concerning sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities.  In addition Zanardi states that the church must do all that it can to help the victims of clergy sexual abuse as they try to rebuild their lives.

During his journey Zanardi wore a shirt with the words “Pilgrimage of truth. Stop the silence and indifference in the Church”.  When he arrived at the Vatican, despite walking on foot for 350 miles, his request to deliver the letter to the Pope was denied. His correspondence was however accepted by an employee of the Vatican.

While there has been significant coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in many countries throughout the world there remains little that is known about the extent of clergy sex crimes in the nation of Italy.  Victim/survivors in Italy, which is home to the headquarters of the Catholic Church, need tremendous courage to come forward and report their abuse.  Francesco Zanardi and his fellow survivors in Italy are exhibiting that courage and it is making a difference.

In March of this year the New York Times reported that an Italian priest was sentenced to jail for 15 years.  The priest, Ruggero Conti, had been found guilty of abusing seven children over a ten year period.  Only a few short years ago it would have been unheard of for an Italian priest to be sentenced to prison for sexually abusing children.

In May TIME magazine reported on the case of Fr. Riccardo Seppia.  Seppia was a priest in the archdiocese of Genoa, which is led by archbishop Angelo Bagnasco.  Bagnasco is the head of the Italian bishops conference, and is also advising Pope Benedict on creating new policies to deal with clergy sexual abuse reports.  Seppia was arrested in May on pedophilia and drug charges.  In a taped telephone conversation Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to supply him with children that he could use to satisfy his sexual desires.  He is quoted as saying “I do not want 16 year old boys but younger.  Fourteen year olds are OK.  Look for needy boys with family issues”.  Seppia’s attorneys contended that these were simply “games”.

A third case in Italy, which has drawn international attention, is the abuse of children which took place at Verona’s Antonio Provolo School.  The school for the deaf was home to some two dozen priests who abused the children in their care.  The Sunday Times reported in March of last year on the remarkable story of survivors from the school appearing on Italian television and sharing their story with the world.  The survivors told of decades of sexual and physical abuse inflicted by the priests and lay employees of the institution.  The case had striking similarities to the abused suffered by children at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, where Lawrence Murhpy abused over 200 children.

The survivors in Italy, by coming forward and reporting their abuse, are making the church a safer place for children in their country.  Francesco Zanardi should be commended for his journey to the Vatican.  While he was unable to deliver his letter to the pope, his “pilgrimage of truth” will give courage and hope to other survivors in Italy.


One Comment
  1. Judy Jones permalink

    Even though I am old and out of shape, I would walk with this survivor anywhere.. He is amazing..

    Thank you from thousands of victims of priest abuse.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA 636-433-2511
    “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests” and all clergy.

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