ROME — A former priest in Italy sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2013 for sexual abuse of seven minors was captured by police in Milan late Thursday, three days after escaping from a clinic in the hills on the outskirts of Rome where he had been taken for treatment.
According to police reports, Ruggero Conti, 64, had been serving his term under conditions of house arrest, and had been given permission to move to the clinic in the castelli, the hills surrounding Lake Albano outside Rome that also contain the papal summer residence of Castelgandolfo, to be treated for an undisclosed health condition.
While there, police say, Conti surreptitiously left the clinic and hailed a taxi, escaping detection. On Thursday, police caught up to him in Milan’s San Raffaele hospital and placed him in custody. Now, reports suggest, Conti will have to serve the remaining 11 years of his sentence behind bars.
Ruggero originally was arrested in 2008, while still serving as a priest, at a time when he was organizing travel arrangements for local youth planning to take part in the World Youth Day to be held in Sydney, Australia. He was charged with sexually abusing seven minors in his care between 1998 and 2008, with the abuse taking place either at an oratory where he served or summer camps he helped to run.
At the time, a public prosecutor described Conti as guilty of “unheard-of, insidious and persistently grave” misconduct.
Conti, who was later laicized, meaning expelled from the priesthood, has always asserted his innocence.
Other charges, which were not part of that prosecution, date back to a period in the 1980s when Conti was a lay teacher of sexual education in the Italian city of Legnano, near Milan. However, prosecution for those accusations proved impossible due to Italy’s statute of limitations.
After his escape from the clinic last week, police told media outlets they had been able to reconstruct Conti’s movements by tracing his cell phone and credit card use – among other things, Conti reportedly used a personal credit card to pay his cab fare for the ride into hiding.
That same day, an appeals court in Rome revoked the grant of house arrest to Conti, and ordered that he serve the remaining period of his sentence in a prison.
For the moment, according to Italian media reports, Conti remains in the San Raffaele hospital under around-the-clock guard, to prevent him from trying to flee again.