During one of my frequent visits to the Italian show “Le parole della settimana” (Words of the Week) on RAI 3, I had the honor of meeting Erik Zattoni who, as a guest, had come to tell his true personal story.
Thanks to the perseverance and constancy of this fantastic man, the story has already been made public to the press, despite innumerable difficulties.
For more than 30 years, he has been fighting for justice.
I was really struck by the intensity of the story and, in light of the recent publication of the book “SODOMA“, I considered raising the subject.
So I decided to interview him and tell his story (with his consent and help) in my own way:
(Once upun a time …)
It was a sunny day at the end of September. That day, we arrived at the church after stopping at the kindergarten to pick up the children to take them home. Every day, I helped the parish priest, mornings and afternoons, to check the children on their way home from school. When I arrived in the sacristy, the parish priest asked me to help him arrange some books in his study. I accepted and followed him, unaware of what would happen then. Entering the room, I realized that he closed the door tight, and he told me: “Emma … sit down on the couch while I settle”. After a few moments, with an obvious excuse, he sat down next to me and began to caress my knee and then go back up the thigh, to where I could never have imagined.
I did not understand the reason for this behavior.
“You know it’s our secret,” he told me with a soothing and mischievous air.
“No, let me go,” I shouted.
He immobilized me and forcibly lowered my briefs after locking my wrists, repeatedly saying: “Stay calm, it’s nothing.” I had a fragile and thin little body, I was still a child, the breasts barely appearing. Strongly, he arrived to his intent. He had a smell of suffocating sweat, while he … he did, I tried with all my strength to free myself, without success, I finally realized that I could not do anything to prevent what was already practically happening … I closed my eyes full of tears and invoked Virgin Mary: “help me!“. As soon as I managed to free myself, I lifted my panties as he said, closing his pants:”Don’t tell anyone else or I’ll kick out of the house you and your whole family.” Crying, I ran away disgustedly and, with a lump in my throat and a feeling of dirt that invaded me, I was estranged from myself.
I arrived home, went to the bathroom, sobbing. I washed myself rubbing hard, with the stupid intent to get rid of this feeling of disgust, of dirt, of hatred.
At the time of the events, Emma’s family consisted of 13 people, 8 of whom were without work because they were still school aged. They lived in a house built by the volunteers of the Social Works of the Parish on land they owned.
Emma had just turned 14 and it was impossible for her to keep such a big secret, to keep quiet about this serious condition. For five months after the incident, she managed to keep it hidden, until the moment when her health condition implied a hospitalization; she was accompanied to the Civil Hospital by her elder brother and her mother. After being subjected to the necessary examinations and assessments, the state of pregnancy was ascertained at the fourth advanced month. It was on this occasion that she confessed to her brothers and her mother that the father of the child was Don Pietro Tosi, the parish priest of Cornacervina, because he had never had other relationships. They decided to turn to a lawyer, with the intention of suing, but the threats of eviction and the economic difficulties did not allow legal expenses, so they gave up.
In the throes of total despair, the family tried to seek clarification from the ecclesiastical authorities in the area. The reaction on their part was “I do not think the parish priest has committed what you accuse him of, let us doubt … not to be believed. However, even if it were true, we beg you to keep quiet, it would be a huge scandal for the whole diocese; the credibility of our priests would be severely tested. I ask your pity, not your forgiveness. If necessary, we will take care of everything “.
The elder brother decided to meet the Don directly and he, of course, shamelessly denied the reality and strongly reiterated the total extraneousness to the facts. However, he manifested, on that occasion and only on that occasion, his total willingness to undergo the analysis necessary to prove his claims.
In the early days of the summer of 1981, Erik was born.
In 1982, Emma’s brother, blamed by Don Pietro Tosi and the Curia of Ferrara, was forced to undergo DNA testing. All this ended, obviously, with a negative result.
Starting at the beginning of 1984, on the initiative and insistence of the Don, the family suffered a judicial action that ended with the eviction of the family between February and March of 1987 … despite the evident and persistent state of need of the family who, in 1983, had to face the loss of the father who, in addition to being the most important reference, turned out to be the only source of support for the family.
Years passed and with great economic difficulties, Erik became an adult. For a sense of redemption and, above all, for justice for him and towards his mother, Erik wanted to meet his father. On two occasions, he did, in the presence of his girlfriend. On both occasions, the parish priest proved to be evasive, nervous and agitated. In the first meeting, he claimed to know nothing, to be foreign to the facts. He said that he would undergo DNA testing if and only if it were an official imposition.
This cowardly attitude and total absence of understanding and compassion struck and deeply tested Erik.
The priest of the parish was summoned to court but did not show up (he was sentenced in absentia). Since there was a lawsuit pending, he could no longer refuse to undergo DNA testing. In April 2011, the results confirmed his paternity.
After the result of the DNA test and the sentence, together with his mother, he met him again, and the parish priest said he had lost his mind at that moment, which was a moment of madness. However, later, he said he had asked God for forgiveness and that he was now in peace with his conscience. Despite the reality of the facts, he never asked forgiveness from Erik’s mother. He only admitted what he had done in a letter
For more than 30 years, the parish priest continued his cult role … in a normal activity and managing the kindergarten of Cornacevina in the province of Ferrara. The total indifference and impassivity on the matter led Erik to turn to the highest ecclesiastical authorities, who confirmed they were not aware of the story, and advised not to inform anyone of the meeting.
Following was the request of Erik to the vicar of the diocese to lift the post of prelate, because of the clear allegations of rape and pedophilia. The answer was “but you know … the rape is not enough and then he is old, something like that would break him down, he’s hard to replace, it takes time!” He added: “but if he apologizes, do you forget? Will you pretend nothing happened? It should be enough… “And he ended up saying,” But how was your mother? Was she attractive? “
Finally, the meeting with the bishop arrived, confirming that he knew the story because the parish priest had confessed everything to him. However, he decided not to dismiss him until 2012, following Erik’s insistence. On 2012 he retired.
Erik’s intention to bring the parish priest back to lay state vanished when the Vatican told him “there will be no trial for the priest … he will die priest.” Erik’s request came up to former cardinal Ratzinger (he would later become Pope), but to no response, although, in the 80s, bishops had the obligation to inform the Congregation of the doctrine for the faith, in case there were ethical problems on the part of priests.
The pastor would end his days at the local retirement home, where he would remain until January 15, 2014 : he died in his sleep at the age of 86.
Today, it is no longer possible to proceed with the case, as the crime has fallen into prescription, both for Italian law and for canon law. And this, despite the decision of September 2011 in which the court declares, thanks to the DNA test, that Don Pietro is the father. A civil suit for economic recognition of damages would be possible, but at this moment, Erik does not have the possibility to bear the costs.
Manifestations of support were not lacking from the association Ferrara By Night during the Angelus in Rome where the participants, dressed in white, with white sheets and panels with the #PapaAscoltaErik (Pope listens to Erik) formed a white spot in the crowd.
Today, Erik Zanotti is a 38-year-old man, married and happy, with a woman who, in recent years, has always been able to support him in this dignified fight and gave him an 8 year old daughter and a 5 year old son. He fought for justice for his mother who was raped at the age of 14 by the village priest, whom he will never call his father. A priest who remains unpunished and in contact with minors for nearly 40 years. Erik decided to publish this story hoping that other victims will find the courage to do the same, knowing that the path is difficult and painful.
Emma, after years spent at home because of her shame, has now reacquired her safety, thanks to the constancy and firmness of her son Erik. Today, she has a partner and is a mother of a 16-year-old girl.
Disturbed, perplexed and deeply angry, I tried to understand what could lead a man or rather a beast, who at that time was 54 years old (like me today) to commit such violence towards a girl without defense. We cannot even talk about animals because animals hunt exclusively to satisfy their hunger and not for sexuality. The girl, a naive creature who saw in the priest the personification of Good, Respect, Good deeds and Good manners, saw him turn into a monster in a moment and threatened to expel his family already in great financial difficulties.
These crimes, no matter what they are, should make us think, regardless of their social status, personal situation, family and profession, skin color, culture and sexual preferences : they should never exist and must be reported.
Had it happened to a teacher, an assistant or any other person, she would not have been released from office! But I wonder what a man of the church must do to be reduced to lay state ? “To say that the condom is useful during the Mass?”
We reflect and ask questions and above all … look for good answers.
I invite everyone, in front of shameful facts of the kind or similar, to talk, talk and talk … the cancer of society is conspiracy of silence and I trust the work of the present pope Francis. I hope that he will be able to really change things, systematically punishing those who have accomplished and will unfortunately still carry out similar violence, whatever their position.
We have to teach our children:
- that their body is only theirs,
- that no one has the right to touch it without consent,
- that if they are in contact with annoying attitudes, they have to say,
- to say “NO” if they feel they’re forced to do something they feel is wrong.
That is the only way we will be able to defeat these monsters of society, little by little.