- Title: ITALY: Priests accused of sexually abusing deaf children at school in Verona
- Date: 10th April 2010
- Summary: LAITI SEATED LAITI SEATED/ OTHERS STANDING AND TALKING
- Embargoed: 25th April 2010 13:00
- Location: Italy
- Country: Italy
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA2UCFP4185HD8933SJ8AFA639R
- Story Text: The men may have difficulties speaking because they are deaf, but they have no trouble conveying a clear picture of childhood abuse: a regime of repeated rape and corporal punishment by priests and lay brothers at the Antonio Provolo institute for the deaf.
"I was six years old when I went to the institute and after one year I started being subjected to violence. Two or three times a week, for six or seven years," said Dario Laiti, a former pupil, now 59.
"Violence, sometimes beating. Violence to masturbate (so the priests could masturbate us). Sodomy and also we had to masturbate the priests," he continued.
Laiti said they had been afraid to come forward.
"The priest is an important person. And I had to shut up. At night they always told us 'don't tell anyone'. I'm deaf and handicapped. I can't even speak to my dad and mum, imagine to the police or carabinieri. I had to keep silent. Also, I was very young."
He said he eventually came forward after the school rented a house opposite the building housing the association for former pupils they now attend. One day he saw a priest he thought was getting too close to one of the children and felt compelled to go to the police.
"Now I feel much better," he said.
Laiti and 66 other former students of the school, run at the time by the small Company of Mary religious order, first signed statements in late 2008, saying they were abused by some two dozen priests, brothers and lay religious men, mostly in the 1960s.
On March 26, 2010, Laiti appeared with former pupils Gianni Bisoli and Alessandro Vantini on a prime-time talk show on Italy's state-run RAI television to talk about the abuse.
Bisoli, now 61, said he too was molested at night in bed, in the baths and in the carpentry shop. He attended the school from 1957 to 1963 before running away. He describes how he struggled to comprehend what was happening.
"I was naked (in the bathroom), the priest put me against the wall with my hands to the wall," he said, describing how he was raped for twenty minutes then told abruptly to go to bed. "The next day I was thinking the priest is mad, I didn't know what to do and this kept happening and happening."
He described how his experiences made future sexual relations with women almost impossible.
"It was ok when we were naked, hugging each other but then she tried to give me oral sex. No. I was used to male priests, as a victim."
"It's difficult to recover. Seven, eight years ago I started (having relations) with girls."
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.
So far Pope Benedict has not spoken out directly on the allegations and made no mention at recent Easter celebrations on St. Peter's Square. A leader cardinal denounced the "petty gossip" against the Church.
The present Bishop of Verona, Monsignor Giuseppe Zenti, initially accused the former pupils of lying. However he was forced to open an internal enquiry after one of the accused lay brothers admitted to sexual relations with pupils.
The pupils appear to have mixed feelings on whether the Pope should resign but all are adamant the priests should be kicked out of the church.
"If the Pope is responsible he should resign and he must send all the priests away," said Bisoli. Otherwise this will keep happening to children."
"The Pope shouldn't go, the priests must go," said Moreno Corbellari, another former pupil. He said his son is also deaf and he had purposefully sent him to be cared for by nuns rather than risk abuse with the priests at Antonio Provolo.
Their stories have become more relevant as a sexual abuse scandal has swirled around the world and hit the Roman Catholic Church's image, with some questioning whether the current pope had mishandled cases of abuse when he was a bishop in Germany and as a Vatican official before his election in 2005.
Recent revelations allege the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - then led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope - told Wisconsin bishops in 1998 to halt a church trial for an elderly priest who allegedly molested 200 deaf boys. The New York Times revealed that the prosecution of Father Lawrence Murphy for sex offences between 1950 to 1974 was halted after he appealed to Ratzinger.
The Verona archdiocese opened an investigation into accusations of abuse shortly after the Italian newsweekly L'Espresso first wrote it in January, 2009.
Monsignor Bruno Fasani, a spokesman for diocese said priests, brothers and staff who worked at the school from the 1950s to the 1970s were questioned and said they were not aware of any systematic abuse.
He said that decades ago two young "aspiring priests" were "immediately dismissed" when it was discovered that they had shown sexual attraction for boys.
Fasani said that when the diocesan investigation started, one brother who worked in the school decades ago and is now over 80 admitted to abusing boys years earlier. When told that he would undergo therapy and be further investigated by both the diocese and the Vatican, he decided to leave the order.
The results of the Verona investigation were sent to the Vatican in May of 2009 and the Vatican responded in February of this year, asking the diocese to continue the probe by convoking all those who say they were abused and hear their stories.
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