The Catholic Church is once again reeling as the latest scandal to rock its foundations unfolds in the archdiocese of the very Cardinal who was brought in by Pope Benedict XVI to oversee reforms in the wake of the sex abuse scandals. It centres on Father Riccardo Seppia, a 51-year-old parish priest in the village of Sastri Ponente, near Genoa, who was arrested on 13th May and charged with paedophilia and drug offences.
Investigators say that during tapped mobile phone conversations, Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters for him with young, vulnerable boys. "I don’t want 16-year-old boys but younger,” Seppia is alleged to have said. “14-year-olds are OK - look for needy boys who have family issues.”
According to investigators, Seppia later told a friend - a former seminarian and barman who is also under investigation - that the town's shopping centres were the best places to entice minors. During the tapped phone conversations the two friends swore and blasphemed. The priest is charged with attempting to kiss and touch an underage altar boy as well as exchanging cocaine for sexual intercourse with boys over eighteen.
Seppia's defence lawyers are expected to argue that the conversations - monitored since 20th October 2010 - were just playful words, crude games that were played by adults. According to the defence, it was also just a game when, it is claimed, he "kissed on the mouth" a 15-year-old altar boy.
On 16th May, during 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. Defence attorney Paolo Bonanni said the defence wants to evaluate all the charges, reserving the right to respond to public prosecutor Stefano Puppo in the coming days.
Questioned by the investigators, the altar boy 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 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 fifty 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 fifty euros 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 the internet also. Seppia is currently being kept in a cell in a Genoese prison, where he has met the jail's priest and psychologist. "He has read the newspapers and he is pained by his parishioners' comments," says his lawyer. The investigation is ongoing.
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