ROME – A judge on Monday announced the trial dates for the head of a lay Catholic association in southern Italy who is charged with sexually abusing 10 underage girls, and for his alleged accomplices, including a priest accused of breaking the seal of confession.

Due to a “notification failure,” the trial for Piero Alfio Capuana, the head of the lay Catholic Culture and Environment Association (ACCA), accused of sexually abusing minors with the help of three of his alleged accomplices has been postponed to October 14.

The former president of ACCA, Salvatore Torrisi, and the regional councilor Domenico Rotella are charged with aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy since investigative police reports suggest that they informed the association’s leadership that they were under surveillance.

The judge has decided not to absolve Torrisi and Rotella and referred them to trial on February 4, 2020. On Monday the magistrate also accepted the families of the alleged victims and one association opposing violence against women as a civil party in the proceedings, even though aiding and abetting usually sees the state as the offended party.

According to wire-tapped phone conversations obtained by the police and read by Crux, Torrisi and Rotella allegedly learned about the investigation against ACCA and its leader from Father Orazio Caputo, who in turn is accused of having learned about it during confession.

The fast-track civil trial for Caputo is scheduled for October 28.

The mother of the alleged victim who claims to have told Caputo about the investigation and her concerns regarding ACCA during the sacrament of confession in February 2017, has also asked for an ecclesiastical trial to be held at the local Diocese of Acireale in Sicily to take place June 17-18.

If Caputo were to be found guilty of breaking the confessional seal, he could be excommunicated according to canon law.

Police wiretaps show that Rotella was aware that these conversations occurred under the confessional seal and attempted to defuse the situation.

“Certain people have made charges,” Rotella said in a phone conversation tapped by the police. “I had him tell me the rest… take into account that all this was reported during confession.”

The politician goes on to say he was “very concerned” about the situation, which risks “breaking the bank.” Rotella also added, according to the police transcript, that members of the association should prepare for an investigation.

While exiting the first day of trial on Monday 13, Torrisi told local reporters that he “never spoke” to Caputo and had no idea that there were cases of sexual abuse within ACCA.

When Crux interviewed Torrisi in the spring of 2018, his position was very different.

“Father Orazio raised to me his perplexities about a family, which had frequented the association, and spoke ill of it,” the former president of ACCA said during an interview in his apartment in April of last year.

“He reported on a component that handles a retirement home so I understood what family he was referring to. The same family that a few months earlier had left the association. This did not surprise me or worry me,” he added.

Torrisi explained that he wasn’t concerned about the conversation that he admitted to having with Caputo until he was informed “they are moving ahead” with the investigation. He also admitted that in a later conversation he spoke to Rotella, where he “expressed his concerns.”

“Between Father Orazio and myself there was a friendship. We would have a drink together, I helped him set up his produce stand. I loved this figure, who among other things made a very important service for us, being many, when on Sunday evening he would come to the Cenacle, close himself in a small room and hear confessions for an hour, an hour and a half and then leave,” he added.

While Torrisi denied having heard anything about sexual abuse within ACCA, stating that he “deduced everything,” he did tell Crux that he not only spoke to Caputo about the accusations, but also that the priest allowed him to understand who the accusers were. He also recognized that Caputo had the role of confessor for the members of the lay group.

The complex relationships and dynamics that occur in the scandal-ridden lay group will take center stage in the coming months – and even years – when the long-awaited trials will attempt to uncover the truth.