New Italian church leader faces calls for abuse probe

Pope Francis on Tuesday appointed a bishop in his spitting image, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, as the new president of Italy’s Bishops’ Conference, amid mounting pressure on Italy’s Catholic Church to confront its legacy of clerical sexual abuse with an independent inquiry.

Francis’ much-anticipated election was announced on day two of the conference’s spring session. Zuppi, 66, is currently Archbishop of Bologna and a long-time member of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic charity close to Francis.

The Italian Catholic Church is one of the few in Western Europe that has not opened its archives to independent researchers to determine the extent of abuse and cover-ups over the past few decades. Whether by government mandate, parliamentary inquiry, or church initiation, such reports have revealed systematic problems in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France, for example, that have allowed thousands of children to be abused by Catholic priests. Churches in Spain and Portugal recently agreed to launch similar investigations.

But the Italian church has so far resisted calls from survivors, advocacy groups and the media to follow suit, though conference officials have said they would await the appointment of a new president later this month before making any announcements.

Zuppi’s outgoing predecessor, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, addressed the issue in general in his closing speech on Tuesday, but made no commitments.

“We reaffirm our commitment to protecting minors and preventing abuse,” he told his fellow bishops. “We intend to promote a better understanding of the phenomenon of abuse in order to assess protection and prevention measures and make them more efficient,” he said without elaborating.

Unlike other countries where the bishops elect their own conference presidents, the Pope elects the Italian conference president as he is also Bishop of Rome. In this case, Francis chose one of three names suggested by the bishops. New Italian church leader faces calls for abuse probe

Bobby Allyn

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