Europe

Italian priest charged with molesting youngsters

Pierino Gelmini in Rome
Image caption Pierino Gelmini founded the drug rehabilitation centre in 1963

A high-profile former Roman Catholic priest in Italy has been charged with sexual abuse.

Pierino Gelmini, 85, is alleged to have abused 12 young people at a drug rehabilitation centre he had founded.

He denies the charges. Mr Gelmini left the priesthood two years ago to defend himself.

The Comunita Incontro, which runs drug rehabilitation centres worldwide, has enjoyed the support of powerful figures in Italian politics.

In 2005, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gave $6m (£4m) to his organisation.

Mr Gelmini set up the Communita Incontro in 1963 in the Umbrian town of Amelia. It has more than 200 centres in Italy - and others in France, Spain, the US, Brazil and Thailand.

The allegations against him surfaced in 2008 when nine young men said he had sexually abused them. Another three went to police later.

The first hearing of his trial is due on 29 March 2011.

Mr Gelmini's lawyer says "there is no proof that can support the accusations".

Penance versus justice

The Roman Catholic Church in Italy has admitted that about 100 cases of paedophile priests have been reported to church authorities during the past 10 years.

But it is not known how many priests in the country have subsequently been defrocked under canon law - or how many have been prosecuted by police.

There has been a wave of allegations in the past few months that Church authorities in Europe and North and South America failed to deal properly with priests accused of child sex abuse, sometimes just moving them to new parishes where more children were put at risk.

Pope Benedict XVI himself has been accused of being part of a culture of secrecy, and of not taking strong enough steps against paedophiles when he had that responsibility as a cardinal in Rome.

However, his supporters say he has been the most pro-active pope yet in confronting abuse.

Last month, the Pope said the Church has "a very deep need" to acknowledge that it must do penance for its sins and "accept purification".

However, he added that forgiveness should not be a substitute for justice.

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