Trial of priest accused of breaking confession seal to protect lay group begins

Trial of priest accused of breaking confession seal to protect lay group begins

Trial of priest accused of breaking confession seal to protect lay group begins

Basilica of Saints Pietro e Paolo in Acireale, Sicily. (Credit: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo (Basilica dei SS. Pietro e Paolo) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

The eccclesiastic trial for an Italian priest accused of breaking the seal of confession to inform a scandal-ridden lay Catholic group of a police investigation on its leadership started on Monday.

ROME – Monday marked the beginning of the ecclesiastical trial for an Italian priest accused of breaking the seal of confession to inform members of a controversial lay group in Italy of a police investigation of their leader for the sexual abuse of minors.

“I feel hopeful, I want to feel hopeful again. Going up against power is always difficult. I hope that we will win this battle,” said the mother of one of the victims, who attended the first day of the trial, in a phone interview with Crux June 18.

The mother, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect her underage daughter’s identity, claims to have gone to confession with Father Orazio Caputo in the fall of 2017 where she spoke of her concerns for her daughter within the lay-led Catholic Culture and Environment Association (ACCA) in the southern Italian town of Acireale.

She claims to have told Caputo, who performed the sacraments for ACCA members, of a police investigation of the so-called “Twelve Apostles,” looking into the top officials of the association and its charismatic lay leader, Piero Alfio Capuna, considered to be the reincarnation of the Archangel Michael by his acolytes.

Capuana is currently charged with the sexual abuse of ten underage girls while he headed ACCA. He is expected to begin his expedited state criminal trial on October 14.

“I was questioned on a lot of things. They wanted to know also how the community worked,” the mother said about the interrogation, which lasted two hours. “I told them everything.”

The long-awaited ecclesiastical trial was initially set to begin on April 15 but was postponed for unknown reasons. On Tuesday, Caputo was expected to go before the court to present his defense, but that meeting was also postponed to an undisclosed date.

Sources close to the case have told Crux that the trial will probably last until well after the summer, drawing out a case that has been a headache for the local diocese of Acireale for more than two years. The diocese announced in May that it would present itself as a civil party in the case against the “Archangel” Capuana.

“Father Orazio is not saying Mass and has excused himself from confession … for a long time now,” said Father Giovanni Mammino, vicar general for the Diocese of Acireale in Sicily, in a Feb. 19 interview with Crux.

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

The priest is also undergoing civil proceedings and is charged with aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy. The fast-track civil trial for Caputo is scheduled for October 28.

According to wire-tapped phone conversations obtained by the police and read by Crux, the former president of ACCA, Salvatore Torrisi, and the regional councilor, Domenico Rotella, were informed about the police investigation against the lay group by the priest.

“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.”

While exiting the first day of the civil 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.

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.”

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.

Both Torrisi and Rotella testified before the ecclesiastical court on Monday afternoon.

If Caputo is guilty – canonically and civilly – of informing the ACCA leadership of the investigation, his acts would have allegedly allowed Capuana and his associates to hide any proof, documentation and information that could incriminate them.

“I hope that Caputo pays for what he did. First of all because I believed in him, I trusted him, but he betrayed me with the people who abused my daughter. I hope this will go well eventually and help in the civil trial,” the mother said.

Follow Claire Giangravè on Twitter: @ClaireGiangrave

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