News Analysis

Italy’s bishops don’t have to report abuse claims. But one of them just did

Bishop Nerbini (diocesiprato.it)

You may have heard that the bishop of a small city in Tuscany denounced a priest in his diocese to secular authorities in connection with sexual abuse allegations. The bishop is Giovanni Nerbini – a 66-year-old from Fiesole, consecrated bishop last June and installed in the see of Prato on September 7 of last year – and the priest in question is Fr Giglio Gilioli, founder of the Disciples of the Annunciation.

There are eight others, including five priests and other religious, now under prosecutors’ lights in Prato, suspected of perpetrating sexual and psychological abuse against minors between 2009 and 2012.

Il corriere di Verona reported last week that Gilioli denied the charges when questioned by authorities.

The Vatican suppressed the Disciples in December 2019, citing several different grounds: low recruitment and retention; failure to distinguish the “internal forum” – the realm of conscience that properly belongs to the confessional – from the “external forum”, which concerns questions of discipline proper to the rule and discipline of religious life; and general concerns over the way authority was exercised within the community.

In its letter justifying the suppression, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life also specifically cited “strong doubts regarding the founder’s style of government and his suitability in holding [that] role”.

The Vatican had already opened a canonical process in connection with the abuse allegations but did not wait for the results of that investigation before suppressing the Disciples. Nor did Bishop Nerbini wait for the results of the canonical process to play out before reporting the suspects to secular authorities.

Bishops are not mandatory reporters under Italian law. The Italian bishops passed new guidelines last year in which they do not require themselves to report to secular authorities either. It was fair for Bishop Nerbini to surmise that the Vatican was in no hurry to refer the accused to the secular arm. But last December he went to the prosecutor’s office in Prato to make his report.

After a preliminary inquiry, the procurator of the Italian Republic for Prato formally advised Fr Gilioli et al that they were under official investigation, reportedly on the basis of testimony from one of two Brothers allegedly abused both sexually and psychologically when they were minors entrusted by their parents to the care of the Disciples.

“I hide neither my pain nor my deep concern,” Bishop Nerbini said in a press release last month informing his faithful of the developments. “I would like to hope that the charges are not true, but I want to say clearly that the first interest the Church of Prato has is that of the search for truth.”