Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bishop did not believe allegations over ‘abuser’ priest, court hears

From Times Online May 21, 2010

Bishop did not believe allegations over ‘abuser’ priest, court hears
Richard Owen in Rome 1 Comment
Recommend? (3) A Catholic diocesan bishop on the Vatican’s doorstep admitted today that he did not suspend or report a priest now on trial for sex abuse because he believed that the allegations were rumours.

Gino Reali, Bishop of Porto Santa Rufina, was giving evidence in the trial of Father Ruggero Conti, a former parish priest who was arrested in June 2008 and accused of molesting seven children between 2002 and 2006.

Nino Marazzita, a lawyer for two of the alleged victims, said that Bishop Reali’s appearance in court marked the first time that an Italian bishop had been called to the witness stand in a paedophilia trial. He said that Bishop Reali should himself face investigation for having concealed a crime.

“Bishop admits he did not denounce priest” ran the headline in La Stampa newspaper today, adding: “He knew but did nothing”. In contrast to other European countries relatively few clerical abuse cases have come to light in Italy.

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Asked in court if he had underestimated the credibility of accusations against Father Conti, Bishop Reali said that he had first heard the allegations in September 2006 and had consulted 20 to 25 people, including two of the alleged victims.

He had ordered Father Conti not to allow boys to sleep at his home, to be “more prudent” and to “dedicate himself more to spirituality”, but had taken no further action. “I believed I needed to act on facts, not rumours,” Bishop Reali said. “So many rumours cross a bishops’ desk.” The alleged victims have told police that Father Conti masturbated them and forced them to perform oral sex on him after inviting them to his home for meals or to watch films.

Father Conti denied the charges. He told the court that he had sometimes cuddled the boys and that they must have had a “distorted interpretation” of this behaviour.

Bishop Reali denied allegations that he had sworn Father Conti’s alleged victims to silence. He said that he had asked one of them to give him a signed declaration so that he could launch a Church investigation. The inquiry had not taken place because when he convened a Church tribunal the alleged victim failed to turn up.

He admitted that he had not informed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the case, as required by Church rules, and claimed that he was unaware that Italian law required him to inform police about suspected abuse.

Last month Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, said: “Underestimation of the facts, if not outright cover-up, will have to be rigorously prosecuted within and outside the Church and, as has already happened in some cases, will have to result in the removal and dismissal of the people involved.”

Victims of Father Lelio Cantini, a priest in Florence who was defrocked in 2007 for sex offences against children over a period of thirty years, have said that they want the Vatican to take action against local bishops who they say covered up the offences. The Vatican is also investigating allegations that priests raped and molested deaf boys at a Church-run institute in Verona.

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