GENOA - The latest sex abuse case to rock the Catholic Church is unfolding in the archdiocese of an influential Italian Cardinal, who has been working with Pope Benedict XVI on reforms to respond to prior scandals of pedophile priests.
Father Riccardo Seppia, a 51 year-old parish priest in the village of Sastri Ponente, near Genoa, was arrested last Friday on pedophilia and drugs charges. Investigators say that in tapped mobile phone conversations Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters with young and vulnerable boys. I do not want 16-year-old boys, but younger. Fourteen-year-olds are OK. Look for needy boys, who have family issues, he allegedly said.
Genoa Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, who is also head of the Italian Bishops Conference, had been working with Benedict to establish a tough new worldwide policy released this week on how bishops should handle accusations of priestly sex abuse.
Bagnasco said when he met the Pope this weekend he asked for a particular blessing for my archdiocese, in light of the accused crimes, adding that like every father toward a son (feels) great pain in seeing a priest who is not faithful to his vocation.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi praised Bagnascos handling of the Sastri Ponente case, lauding its timeliness and competence. On Saturday, the Cardinal also visited the Santo Spirito Church where Seppia was the parish priest.
According to investigators, Seppia told a friend -- a former seminarian and barman who is currently under investigation -- that the towns malls were the best places to entice minors. In the tapped phone conversations they cursed and swore against God. The priest is charged with having attempted to kiss and touch an under-age altar boy, and of having exchanged cocaine for sexual intercourse with boys who were over 18.
Seppias defense lawyers are expected to argue that those conversations monitored since Oct. 20, 2010 were just words, sex games that were played by adults. It was just a game even when he claimed to have kissed on the mouth a 15-year-old altar boy, according to the defense.
On Monday, during the formal questioning by Genoa's Investigating Magistrate Annalisa Giacalone, Seppia chose not to respond. The magistrate decided to keep him in custody to avoid a risk of relapse or tampering with evidence. Defense attorney Paolo Bonanni said that they want to evaluate all the charges, reserving the right to respond to the Public Prosecutor Stefano Puppo in the coming days.
Questioned by the investigators, the altar boy has reportedly confirmed the attempted kiss. Another male minor who, according to the investigators, was stalked with messages and pressing invitations, will be questioned soon. Psychologists are helping the Carabinieri police officers obtain testimony from the alleged victims. The boys are ashamed to talk and to admit what happened, says one of the investigators. The evidence amounts to at least 50 messages and phone calls. In the tapped phone conversations, the drug dealer contacted the boys and gave their phone numbers to the priest, who paid them with cocaine or 50 euros each time for sexual intercourse.
[The investigators] made us listen to that man saying terrifying things about our children. Things so terrible that I cannot repeat them, a father of one of the boys said.
Investigators are also examining three confiscated computers. The priest allegedly looked for partners via chat as well.
Seppia is currently being kept in a confinement cell, in a Genoa prison. He met the jails priest and psychologist. He has read the newspapers, and he is pained by his parishioners comments, said his lawyer. The investigation is ongoing.