Pope hit by abuse claims in Italian school
The sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church came to the Pope's doorstep last night as a group of victims appeared on Italian television to claim that two dozen priests had for decades abused children at a school for the deaf in Verona.
Three former pupils of the Antonio Provolo school who spoke on RAI, the state broadcaster, confirmed allegations made in a signed statement last year by 67 former students who described a regime of sexual abuse, paedophilia and corporal punishment from the 1950s to the 1980s. They said that 24 priests and lay brothers from the Company of Mary order were involved.
The three said the priests had "fondled and masturbated" them as well as sodomising them in dormitories, bathrooms and the priests' quarters.
Among the accused is Monsignor Giuseppe Carraro, who was Bishop of Verona from 1958 to 1978, and who the local diocese has sought to have beatified. Gianni Bisoli, one of the victims, told the Associated Press last year that Bishop Carraro, who died in 1981, had molested him five times.
The current Bishop of Verona, Mgr Giuseppe Zenti, initially accused the former students of "hallucinating". However, the diocese had to open an inquiry after one of the accused lay brothers admitted to sexual relations with pupils.
Last summer the diocese forwarded its files on the abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which took no action until last month when Cardinal William Levada, Pope Benedict's successor as head of the congregation, agreed it was "opportune to proceed" with an inquiry.
Bruno Fasani, spokesman for the Verona Diocese, said it had not taken action earlier because it had not known how to contact the victims. Marco Lodi Rizzini, spokesman for the victims, dismissed this, saying he had personally spoken to Bishop Zenti twice about the accusations and sent him details.
The case echoes a scandal in the United States in which the Pope has been accused of failing to take action against a priest who molested 200 boys at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin.
The 'New York Times' this week revealed that a church prosecution of Fr Lawrence Murphy for sex offences between 1950 and 1974 was halted after he appealed to Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office charged with disciplining clergy.
The Italian Bishops Conference said yesterday that it was forming a "task force" to collect evidence of paedophilia cases.
The church's account of what Benedict had known about a paedophile priest in Germany was called into question yesterday. Fr Peter Hullermann was given sanctuary in 1980 in the Munich Diocese for "therapy" after molesting a boy. A memo, the existence of which was confirmed by two German church officials, showed that Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop of Munich, not only led a meeting on January 15, 1980, approving the transfer of the priest from Essen, but that he was also kept informed of the priest's subsequent reassignment.
It remains unclear whether he played any part in the decisions or whether he had read the memo addressed to him. Hullermann was convicted of sexual abuse in 1986.
Now 61, he was suspended this month from his post in the Bavarian town of Bad Tolz for breaking a promise not to have contact with children and young people.
The leaders of the conservative Catholic order, the Legionnaries of Christ, added to the grim news yesterday, expressing their "pain and regret" to the victims of Fr Marcial Maciel, of Mexico, the order's late founder, over revelations that he led a double life for decades, molesting seminarians. He died two years ago, aged 87.