Italy priest sex scandal widens

2010-04-06 20:07

Rome - Dozens of Italian priests investigated for alleged paedophilia over the past decade are just the "tip of the iceberg" a lawyer said on Tuesday as the Catholic Church grapples with a proliferation of sex abuse scandals.

"I have documented more than 130 cases of clergy paedophilia" since around 1999, Sergio Cavaliere told AFP, correcting a report in an Italian daily that said his research covered only the last two years.

Cavaliere, who represents the family of a child abused by a priest in Casal di Principe in southern Italy, said he compiled the list from local press and internet reports on legal cases involving Italian clergy.

Eighty-eight of the reports cite the abusers by name.

So far, "not a single priest has been handed over to justice by a diocese," Cavaliere said, echoing recent remarks by a prosecutor in northern Milan.

'A bit strange'

Pietro Forno, who has won 10 convictions of predator priests, told right-wing daily Il Giornale: "In the many years that I have dealt with the issue, complaints were never lodged by a bishop or individual priests, and that is a bit strange."

Police arrested the Casal di Principe priest in December 2007 after catching him molesting a 12-year-old boy in a car, and he has been convicted to six years and eight months in prison, but is awaiting a final appeal ruling.

The diocese "showed a complete disinterest in the victim's fate", Cavaliere said.

The Italian Catholic Church, contacted by AFP, was not immediately prepared to comment on the matter.

Large-scale paedophile scandals have rocked the churches of Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, the US and the pope's native Germany in recent months.

'Idle chatter'

The Church's behaviour in addressing the scandals is "the opposite of (Pope) Benedict XVI's idle chatter," Cavaliere said, in a mocking reference to remarks by the pontiff last month.

Benedict said during Palm Sunday Mass on March 28 that Jesus Christ "leads us to the courage to not be intimidated by the idle chatter of prevailing opinions", in what was read as a dismissal of growing allegations that Benedict himself failed to act against predator priests.

Observers say the wave of scandals could soon engulf Italy, which counts more than 50 000 priests, the highest concentration in the world.

"The Italian Church is worried and moving to address what might break out in Italy," Roberto Mirabile, head of the anti-paedophilia group La Caramella Buona, told AFP last month.

Charles Scicluna, the chief Vatican investigator for sex crimes, expressed some concern about the handling of predator priests in Italy in a recent interview with Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference.

"So far, the phenomenon does not seem to be of dramatic proportions, though I am worried by a certain culture of silence that is still too widespread," he said.