Ex-priest faces abuse charges

2010-06-18 19:40

Rome - An octogenarian former priest admired throughout Italy for his work against drug and alcohol addiction faces charges of molesting children, the Ansa news agency reported on Friday.

The report said that Don Pierino Gelmini, 85, will go on trial on March 29 2011.

Don Gelmini, a frequent guest on media broadcasts and considered close to the Italian right, founded the Incontro (Encounter) community in 1963 to help drug addicts reintegrate into society.

An investigation against Don Gelmini opened in 2008 after several young Incontro residents lodged complaints.

Ansa said 12 cases were in the dossier against the priest, who has denied any wrongdoing but left the priesthood shortly after the accusations surfaced.

The organisation has grown to include shelters in France, Spain, the United States, Brazil and Thailand.

Billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made a personal gift of €5m in January 2005 for Incontro shelters in Thailand after Southeast Asia's tsunami disaster.

The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked by a deluge of paedophile priest scandals that have swept Europe and North America since late last year.

Italy has remained out of the spotlight, but a top bishop recently gave a first official figure on cases in Italy, saying the Church had carried out about 100 canonical investigations of priests suspected of abuse in the country over the past 10 years.

A bishop was last month named as a witness in a trial of a priest on sexual abuse charges.