In the collective imagination of child abuse in the Catholic Church there is a milestone that any victim, researcher or priest has in mind when facing the issue. The American newspaper The Boston Globe He uncovered in 2002 the massive cover-up carried out for decades in the local diocese. It involved some 260 priests who had sexually assaulted hundreds of children with the impunity granted by the moral authority of the Church. Phil Saviano (Massachusetts, 1952), legendary activist of the cause, was the engine that put on the track to the investigation team of the newspaper and that later helped to write Spotlight, the movie that told that story. Bernard Law, on the other hand, was the cardinal who covered up the case and who obtained a golden retreat provided by John Paul II in the basilica of Santa Maria de la Maggiore. Today both are in Rome: one buried with all the honors and the other, at the doors of the summit called by Francis, remembering the importance of listening to the victims.
Question. How do you trust the Vatican when it was the institution that hid Cardinal Bernard Law, the abuser of abusers like yours?
Answer. That was an insult to all of us who suffered abuse. But it is true that it was not this Pope who did it. It was not even Benedict XVI. We can not blame them. In Massachusetts at the time we did not have laws to charge you for what you had done. There was no way to prevent him from leaving the country. And once here, he was given a golden retreat in a beautiful church and a funeral in St. Peter's Basilica. It did not matter that he had covered up to 260 priests who assaulted hundreds of children. But I'm glad that his funeral was at the other end of the world.
P. Today the summit has debated about accountability. What does that mean in abuses?
R. It means that bad behavior must have consequences. And I think that for generations and generations, priests, bishops and cardinals have lived thinking they could do whatever they wanted without anything happening.
P. His case changed things in the United States.
R. Yes, because now there are laws. We reached the point where we could not trust what the Vatican said, in which measures were taken. Now we are after them for criminal behavior. We had the grand jury report in Pennsylvania a few months ago, which shocked many people. To me, by the way, I thought the numbers were very low. But many Catholics lived in complacency thinking that the Church had everything under control by putting procedures and were surprised by the report. What we see now is that many prosecutors throughout the US are getting on that ship. At least 14 have already announced investigations. And that means they are forcing the dioceses to open the archives and they will not only prosecute the priests, but the bishops who protected them. And that's a big change that we've also seen in Australia or New Zealand. I think that is part of the reason why the Pope has done this joint summit.
P. What does it mean?
R. It is beginning to feel not only the pressure of the victims, but of the representatives of the law. Also, you should know that the average number of Catholics is falling rapidly in the US.
P. Do you think that the investigation of Boston Globe Was it really the turning point?
R. The awakening was in 2002, when they began to publish the research of Spotlight. It happened in January and the following year stories were still being published. The interesting thing is that when the Globe He started taking cases, a wave was generated that encouraged other survivors from all over the country to denounce his story. In the summer of 2002, the US bishops proposed a new policy, known as the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Minors, which included zero tolerance.
P. What did he mean then?
R. Simple: the first time a priest is caught abusing a child goes away from his ministry. He does not have a second chance. But the weak part of the Dallas Charter is that there were no consequences for the bishops who protected these pedophiles and moved them from city to city. And that was a great weakness.
P. How important has the press been in this struggle?
R. It's fundamental. It transports information to the general public, but also to survivors who still do not have the strength to talk about it. Interviewing other victims you encourage them and give them tools to at least consider bringing their stories to light. When it happened to me and it was published, in a few months other three victims left who had been abused by the same priest. And the most important thing is that victims of other priests began to appear in the same diocese. It is ironic that the press conference on Monday thanked the media for helping them understand this problem. I always ask myself, what do you not understand?
P. Do you think this meeting will do any good?
R. Well, I agree that it is historical. The fact that the Pope has called the most powerful bishops for four days is unprecedented. I do not know what will come out of here and I hope that it will be fruitful, that it will serve to educate bishops from places where abuses are still not treated properly. In those countries the victims have not yet found their voice. Tools must be established to determine how to treat the victims, the bishops they cover. That is in the 21 points that the Pope presented. The strange thing is that such a manual did not exist before. Archbishop Scicluna told us the other day that the victims would be more involved. I am sure there will be new rules in the not too distant future.
P. As the obligation to denounce civil authorities?
R. I think it's very important. It means that when a bishop has evidence of abuse he must report immediately, because if not, it also becomes a criminal act. And the investigation must be carried out by the police. The Church wants to do it when only the law demands it. But it is a problem, because it is people who are not prepared to do an investigation and, in addition, they are part of the same organization. Do you think it's normal?