By Antonio Gaspari
ROME, 23 MAY 2010 (ZENIT)
If pedophilia is so widespread in society, what has caused its
growth? And how did it infiltrate the Church?
These and other questions have been tackled in a book by
Francesco Agnoli, Massimo Introvigne, Giuliano Guzzo, Luca
Volonté and Lorenzo Bertocchi. The Italian-language work, titled
"Indagine sulla pedofilia nella Chiesa" (Investigation on
Pedophilia in the Church), considers the roots of the phenomenon
ZENIT spoke with one of the authors, Lorenzo Bertocchi, about
their conclusions and what wavering Catholics can do to restore
faith in the Church.
ZENIT: How many cases of pedophilia are there in the Church?
Bertocchi: Even if there was only one case, obviously it
would already be too many. In this regard, within the Church the
one who has shown himself to have very clear ideas is precisely
Having said that, I think it is useful to understand the
dimensions of the phenomenon and, in the first part of the book,
Massimo Introvigne helps us to frame the problem. In the United
States, for example, according to authoritative academic
research, from 1950 to 2002, there were 958 priests accused of
actual pedophilia out of more than 109,000 priests, but the
convictions are drastically less
a figure just under 100.
In a statement last March 10, Father [Federico] Lombardi [the
Vatican spokesman] mentioned the case of Austria where, in the
same time span, verified accusations attributed to the Church
totaled 17, whereas in other environments they rose to 510.
These numbers can say much or nothing; nevertheless they
undoubtedly show a tendency that enables one to deflate the
hypothesis in regard to the Church that would like to make "a
bundle of the grass" [an Italian expression that means to
The subject of false accusations would merit a separate
discourse, as for example the cases of Father Giorgio Covoni, of
two women religious of Bergamo, of Father Kinsella and Sister
Nora Wall in Ireland, each accused of abuses and then acquitted.
These facts are important because they give credit to the
not-always-clear dynamics in which the accusations take shape.
ZENIT: And in society?
Bertocchi: Reading the data it seems that the plague of
pedophilia is really extensive and impressive. A World Health
Estimates of Health Consequences Due to Violence Against
Children" (Geneva, 2006)
indicates, for example, that in 2002, it can be estimated that
close to 150 million girls and 73 million boys
worldwide were subjected to different forms of sexual abuse.
A U.N. report, presented to the General Assembly on July 21,
2009, focused attention instead on the situation of the Web: On
a worldwide scale, the number of on-line sites of a pedo-pornographic
nature has increased at a dizzying rate; for example, if in 2001
there were 261,653, in 2004 they numbered 480,000, a tendency
that is also confirmed by consulting annual reports from Father
Di Noto's Meter Association.
This fact about the Internet seems to me paradigmatic, given
the role already assumed by the Web in our social life. Thus it
gives weight to the idea that there is a good dose of prejudice
in the type of media campaign carried out to make the Church
seem as the place par excellence of pedophilia.
ZENIT: What kind of culture promotes pedophilia?
Bertocchi: At the heart of the problem is the "sex culture"
that, especially since '68, promoted a real revolution geared to
"abolish the taboos." The spread of pornography
which in some way represents the flag of this revolution
can be seen by everyone. The dominant mentality today is one
that justifies sexual unions of every sort, and is a fruit of
the thought rooted in De Sade, Freud, Fromm, Reich, Marcuse,
those whom we could describe as prophets of the exaltation of
In our book, Francesco Agnoli gives examples of how this
culture is still alive today. Representative is the case of the
Dutch Pro-Pedophiles political party, recently dissolved for
lack of signatures, but not because of a legal prohibition. At
its root, the sexual revolution of those years had the objective
of attacking all types of authority, beginning with God's, and
this, sadly, has left its mark also within the Church.
ZENIT: How, when and why did the culture that fosters
pedophilia penetrate seminaries and the Church?
Bertocchi: We find an indication in the letter Benedict XVI
wrote to Catholics of Ireland, in which, in addition to
addressing the problem of the cases of pedophilia in the Irish
clergy, the Holy Father also looks for the roots of the
phenomenon. In his argumentation, he makes reference to the fact
that the "program of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican
Council was sometimes misinterpreted." Undoubtedly this is an
allusion to that period of the 60s and 70s of the last century
in which the so-called opening to the world led the Church to a
weakening of the faith and to progressive secularization.
The social attack on the principle of authority, the famous
slogan "it is prohibited to prohibit," insinuated itself in the
Church, and thus in the seminaries a certain interpretation
ended up confusing discipline with dialogue. The result was a
wider approach in the selection of candidates to the priesthood.
In this connection, Cardinal [Carlo] Caffarra specified that
the fact that "the Church gives itself criteria to discern whom
to admit and whom not to admit to the priesthood is a right that
no one can reasonably deny it" (La Verita chiede di essere
Today more than ever this right must be exercised. Whoever
thinks that the problem is priests' celibacy should at least
explain why in the Protestant clergy, where marriage is allowed,
there are cases of abuses not inferior to those of the Catholic
ZENIT: Why does organized pedophilia practiced with sexual
tourism not cause a stir, and why can it not be stopped?
Bertocchi: Research by ECPAT [End Child Prostitution, Child
Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes]
reveals that in the world, close to 80 million tourists each
year travel in search of a sex offer. According to Intervita
an Italian organization
there are 10 million minors involved in this global market, with
a revenue estimated at U.S. $12 billion.
The research of the University of Parma carried out by ECPAT
establishes the robot portrait of the "tourist type," who is
certainly not a monster: In 90% of the cases, he is between 20
and 40 years old, of mid- to higher-level education, a good
income level, often married. On the other hand, the victims are
between the ages of 11 and 15, in the case of girls, and between
13 and 18 for boys.
This type of "tourism" is regarded as a crime in many
countries, but despite this it is a flourishing industry and
precisely because it is "an industry" it is difficult to stop.
But there is also a more radical motive to investigate within
the "sex culture" of which I spoke earlier; there are political
expressions that are the banners of ideas born from that
"culture," and that mobilize as a real lobby.
ZENIT: What is the boundary between reality and false
Bertocchi: A great part of our post-modern societies already
accepts or justifies the destruction of embryos inasmuch as it
does not consider them human beings, trades in ovules and
spermatozoids as if they were crackers, theorizes on masculinity
and femininity as simple cultural labels, spreads pornography as
a form of amusement and would like to make assisted suicide a
By a kind of perversion of truth, today we are faced with an
ethical confusion of such proportions that reality is lost in
subjectivism. Thus we see that condemnation of the immoral
behavior of the religious comes from the same cultural
environment that is willing to accept all the arbitrariness of
the individual. The reasons are of an ideological type, but also
of an economic type, as demonstrated by those U.S. lawyers'
practices that have earned billions of dollars, thanks to the
free and easy use of pedophilia accusations.
ZENIT: How should one evaluate the line of zero tolerance
adopted by Benedict XVI?
Bertocchi: The Holy Father's determination in wanting to
bring this to light seems exemplary to me; he points out a path
of transparency that is not only valid for the Church, but
should be valid for all sectors of society that have had or have
to do with this sad phenomenon.
In the 2005 meditations of the Via Crucis, the then Cardinal
Ratzinger showed clearly the need to clean up within the Church,
a desire that is not avenging, but rather for a real justice to
make the Bride of Christ shine even more as "one, holy, catholic
This "style" can be seen in all Benedict XVI's teaching, his
recipe of purification goes in all directions: the hermeneutics
of continuity, the extension of rationality, the example of the
Curé d'Ars for the Year for Priests, the attention to the
liturgy, zero tolerance against the scandal of pedophilia, etc.
The problem might be to read his teachings by taking only what
falls closest to one's own ideas, and not considering them in
ZENIT: How can the Catholic Church overcome the consternation
and mistrust so widespread among the people?
Bertocchi: All of us Catholics are called to return to
the foundations of the faith to be authentic witnesses of the
Risen Lord or, as Luca Volonte says, "the awareness of the
company of Christ must be clear," he who accompanies us daily.
In his recent apostolic trip to Fatima, the Holy Father said
that the Church suffers because of "internal" causes.
He certainly was referring to the wounds caused by the cases
of sexual abuse but I also believe in the need of an essential
doctrinal clarity for a return to the foundations. Today, sadly,
this clarity cannot be taken for granted and this also confuses
Hence, I am in agreement with the conclusions pointed out by
Agnoli in the essay: prayer, recovery of the sense of the
supernatural, effective service from the governance of the
Church and, I add, a profound recovery of the sense of sin. "The
real enemy to fear and to combat is sin, the spiritual evil
that, at times, sadly also infects the members of the Church,"
said Benedict XVI after the Regina Caeli on May 16.
Unfortunately, in many catecheses, the subject "sin" is
increasingly out of fashion, displaced by much psychology and
much sociology. However, to acknowledge ourselves as sinners is
the way to receive God's mercy. Charity in truth
there is no other way to give hope to the men of our time.
[Translation by ZENIT]