Verona deaf school ex-pupils tell Italian TV of sex abuse by priests

Times Online, UK/March 27, 2010

The sex abuse scandal in the Roman 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 ex-pupils 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 that 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, Bishop of Verona from 1958-78, who died in 1981 and whom the local diocese has sought to have beatified, a crucial step on the road to sainthood.

Gianni Bisoli, 62, one of the victims, told viewers he had attended the school from the ages of nine to fifteen and had first been "the object of sexual attentions" three months after he arrived.

"I was sodomised and forced to have oral sex and masturbated by friars and lay brothers" he said, naming 14 of them. "From the age of 11 to 13, I was accompanied on several occasions to the apartments of the bishop of Verona, where the bishop himself sodomised me and made me have other kinds of sexual relations".

Alessandro Vantini, 60, another victim at the school, who earlier said: "You couldn't tell your parents because the priests would beat you", told the programme he was at the school from the ages of 6 to 19. He said until he was ten he was "repeatedly sodomised" by two priests and two lay brothers. "This violence took place in the bathrooms and bedrooms and sometimes in the school church."

Dario Laiti, 60, told viewers he had been molested at the Verona school and at a summer camp for deaf mutes. All three - speaking with difficulty - said they "wanted justice".

The present Bishop of Verona, Mgr Giuseppe Zenti, initially accused the former pupils of "hallucinating". However, the diocese had to open an inquiry after one of the accused lay brothers admitted 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 one in America in which the Pope has been accused of failing to act 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 Father Lawrence Murphy for sex offences between 1950 to 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 it was forming a "task force" to collect evidence of paedophilia.

Corriere della Sera said that the tide of allegations in the US and Europe had finally "reached [Pope Benedict's] window above St Peter's Square [with] destructive force". The best response was not to "withdraw into the fortress and shout about plots" but to hide nothing, the newspaper said.

The Church's account of what Benedict had known about a paedophile priest in Germany was called into question yesterday. Father 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. Father Hullermann was convicted of sexual abuse in 1986. Now 61, he was suspended this month from his post in the Bavarian town of Bad Tölz for breaking a promise not to have contact with children and young people.

Half a century of secrecy

1962 The Vatican issued a document to every bishop emphasising the importance of "strictest" secrecy in investigating sex abuse allegations

1975 Cardinal Sean Brady looked into two complaints of abuse against Father Brendan Smyth, with the teenagers sworn to secrecy

1980 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led a meeting examining the case of Father Peter Hullermann. Although known to be a paedophile, the priest was given therapy and transferred

1996 Cardinal Ratzinger received requests from the Archbishop of Wisconsin for Father Lawrence C. Murphy, accused of molesting up to 200 children, to be defrocked. The inquiry was halted after Father Murphy appealed for mercy

2001 Cardinal Ratzinger signed a document suggesting that child abuse cases must be handled in canonical trials behind closed doors

2002 Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Bernard Law as an Archpriest even though he had resigned as Archbishop of Boston over the cover-up of sexual abuse by more than 1,200 priests

2009 Report detailed thousands of cases of abuse in Irish institutions over 60 years

2010 Pope Benedict released apology to Irish. Bishop John Magee resigned over handling of allegations

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