Indian priest accused of paedophilia under house arrest in Italy

via published on April 18, 2010

TERAMO (Italy): An Indian priest who confessed to sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl in central Italy has been placed under house arrest.

The priest, identified only as David, was transferred to an unnamed location, believed to be a local convent after being charged with sexual violence in the town of Teramo, 175 km northeast of Rome.

His lawyer, Giovanni Gebbia, said that the 40-year-old priest from southern India was completely “demoralised” by his arrest on Thursday and expressed concern about his client’s mental health.

“He is very worried about his profile because he is both a priest and a foreigner,” Gebbia told AKI. “He is very depressed.”

The priest on Wednesday admitted to visiting the girl at her home on December 19 last year.

Gebbia sought to downplay the accusations Thursday, saying the hand of his client “brushed against” her intimate area. “He approached her private parts, he brushed against her private parts,” Gebbia said. “He did not have any bad intentions.”

Gebbia said his client had been singled out because of the “current climate” after a wave of sexual abuse allegations by priests has shaken the Catholic Church in the US, Germany, Ireland, Italy and several other countries.

“He has suffered because of the current climate. This climate is not at all calm,” Gebbia said.

The head of the Teramo diocese, Bishop Michele Seccia, was not available for comment Thursday.

Church spokesperson Gino Mecca also expressed concern about the “current climate” over clerical sexual abuse which he likened to a “cyclone” sweeping the Catholic Church.

“It is very difficult for him,” Mecca said. “He is being made a scapegoat.”

He said he would face Italy’s criminal law before the church took any action on his future under canonical law.

Gebbia also expressed concern about the charge of sexual violence saying it encompassed a range of sexual crimes, which were far more severe than what the Indian priest had done. He declined to estimate the type of sentence his client could face but it could be several years.

“He is available under house arrest for any further interrogation by the magistrates,” he said.

The priest has been studying at Pontifical Gregorian University for two years and used to spend weekends celebrating mass and carrying out other duties in the Teramo diocese.

The priest, who was ordained in 1987, was nabbed Monday soon after he returned from India where he was visiting his ailing mother.

His lawyer said he had no relatives in Italy and had not had contact with his mother since his arrest.

He is the first priest to be arrested in Italy since the Vatican published revised guidelines stating that priests suspected of molesting children must be reported to police.

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