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Father Pierino Gelmini has been completely exonerated of sexual abuse allegations leveled against him. His case demonstrates that abuse claims should not be automatically regarded as true, as is so often portrayed by the media.
BY EDWARD PENTINREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
Following a spate of unsubstantiated claims of sexual abuse
by priests, Italy’s Church leadership fears that an unbalanced media fixation
on the issue is coming to its shores.
In August, a well-known priest who has devoted his life to
establishing rehabilitation centers for drug addicts was accused by four former
patients of sexual abuse. In the face of widespread media coverage, Father
Pietro Gelmini, or “Don Pierino” as he is familiarly known, strongly protested
The 82-year-old priest said the allegations were made by
former adult patients who had been thrown out of his Incontro (Encounter)
Community for theft. In early September, the Italian press reported that
another 50 people had claimed the elderly priest abused them.
However, none of the accusers have brought formal charges
against Father Gelmini, whose community numbers 164 centers in Italy and 74 in
The accusers are former drug addicts and criminals.
“They accuse me because I removed them from the community,”
Father Gelmini told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera Sept. 11. “Some
of them have been uncovered as offenders and were caught. It is their revenge.
I am innocent and therefore remain absolutely calm. I carry the cross and I
pray for them.”
Father Gelmini has been vigorously defended by his
supporters, who include prominent politicians from across the political
spectrum. And, although he did not directly refer to the case, Vatican
Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wrote Father Gelmini at the end of
August, assuring him of Pope Benedict XVI’s prayers so that he can “continue to
help so many marginalized girls and boys recover and grow in their humanity.”
Not long after the Father Gelmini story broke, Italian
newspapers reported on another case in Turin. Prosecutors there were
investigating claims that clergy at a prestigious Salesian school had paid a
24-year-old man to keep quiet about past abuse. Again, no formal charges had
been made, but that didn’t deter extensive press coverage.
Cardinal Bertone, one of the school’s former pupils,
criticized the media for paying so much attention to unproven accusations.
While on a visit to the United States in late August,
Cardinal Bertone said the focus was “a false way to present the Church, as if
you presented a dark fragment of the great Sistine Chapel ... which [after
restoration] has reacquired Michelangelo’s original colors,” Reuters reported.
Said Cardinal Bertone, “For a week, in newspapers or on TV
news, to always see the outside of this institute is truly shameful and
mystifying. It’s absolutely something to condemn.”
In an Aug. 12 interview with the Italian daily newspaper Il
Giornale, Vatican journalist Vittorio Messori warned that Italy was importing
“an American obsession with pedophilia.”
Messori said that a politically correct mentality has caused
problems in some parts of the Church in America. “The result: conformity to the
logic of the world that has brought many homosexuals into seminaries, those who
are always looking for male environments, with a corresponding, inevitable
explosion of scandals,” Messori said.
The John Jay Report, commissioned by the U.S. bishops’
National Review Board for sexual abuse of minors by priests, demonstrated how
significantly homosexual misconduct has contributed to the U.S. scandal.
According to the study, 81% of 10,667 allegations of abuse reported between
1950 and 2002 involved post-pubescent males.
Of those cases, 52.8% involved teenage boys.
The report also indicated that the ratio of homosexual abuse
allegations to heterosexual allegations rose sharply during the 1960s and
1970s, a period during which many American seminaries became more accommodating
in admitting known homosexuals. While the ratio of homosexual to heterosexual
abuse allegations was less than 2 to 1 during the 1950s, the ratio climbed to
more than 3 to 1 in the 1960s and to more than 6 to 1 in the 1970s.
Messori, who co-wrote the 1994 best-seller Crossing the
Threshold of Hope with Pope John Paul II, said that the situation is not unique
Western society as a whole is guilty of hypocrisy, because
it “beatifies” homosexuality and even pedophilia among celebrities but condemns
it in the Church, he said.
Speaking of the Europeon context, Messori said lax policies
at some Catholic seminaries were a central element of the problem.
In seminaries in the past, “if a student showed a gay
tendency, he was told to leave,” Messori said. “But with this curse of
political correctness, if a bishop tells a seminarian to leave, then all the
politically correct shout ‘Discrimination!’ They shout, ‘The bishop is
homophobic!’ They say he is marginalizing a category of people who should be
Said Messori, “The blame really lies with political
correctness. It’s no longer possible to say ‘No’ to anyone — you have to accept
all who apply and, naturally, the consequences are what we have today.”
(Register staff contributed to this story.)
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.