Italy screens controversial pedophile documentary
June 1, 2007 — REUTERS
A controversial BBC TV documentary on the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests aired in Italy on Thursday as conservative politicians called for a boycott of the state broadcaster for running it.
Sex Crimes and the Vatican has for the past several weeks pitted right-wing politicians opposed to its airing against those who said censoring it would violate freedom of speech.
After much haggling, the head of state broadcaster RAI said it could be aired as part of a debate show called Year Zero, but only if it were accompanied by balancing opinion from church representatives.
Despite the compromise, Isabella Bertolini, a parliamentarian of the conservative Forza Italia party called on Italians to boycott RAI for 10 minutes to protest against the decision to air “a documentary full of lies”.
Some groups, complaining of a media trial of the Catholic Church, also protested against the decision to air the documentary, already seen by millions on the internet in Italy.
The program marked the first time the issue of sexual abuse of children was discussed so explicitly on Italian television.
Bishop Rino Fisichella, who gave the Vatican’s viewpoint, and Father Fortunato Di Noto, an Italian priest who campaigns against pedophilia, contested parts of the documentary and some assertions made by other guests who accused the church of protecting pedophile priests.
During the program, Fisichella, rector of Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University, and others said it was unfair to single out pedophilia among priests when it was present in many other social groups.
The presenter of the program, left-leaning journalist Michele Santoro, said that out of about 1,000 cases of reported pedophilia by priests, the Italian Church investigated only 10.
The show included two young people who claimed they had been sexually abused while they were child members of a parish group in Florence and that local church authorities did not investigate their claims.
The BBC documentary examined what it described as secret Vatican documents setting out procedures to deal with general abuse of the confessional by a priest to silence his victim.
The original document, written in 1962, was updated in 2001 to deal more specifically with pedophilia as the church around the world became embroiled in a string of sexual abuse scandals.
British bishops last year criticised the BBC, saying it should be “ashamed of the standard of the journalism used to create this unwarranted attack on Pope Benedict”.
Before his election as Pope in 2005, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that enforces doctrine. Reuters