Eminent Italian ex-priest to stand trial for abuse
ROME (Reuters) - Former priest Pierino Gelmini, one of Italy's most high-profile and politically well-connected Catholics, was ordered on Friday to stand trial on charges of sexual abuse at a drug rehabilitation center, his lawyer said.
Twelve men who were residents of one of his drug rehabilitation centers have accused him of sexually abusing them, some when they were teenagers.
Gelmini, who has denied all charges, was defrocked by the Vatican at his own request two years ago, a move he said would allow him to defend himself better.
The trial of Gelmini, 86, who has often appeared on national television, is expected to start next year in the central city of Terni, near one of his drug rehabilitation centers.
Gelmini, who was indicted at the end of an investigation that took several years, has counted powerful allies in Italian politics among his supporters.
When he turned 80, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gave a speech at his birthday celebration. Maurizio Gasparri, the head of Berlusconi's party in the Senate, once called Gelmini "one of the few heroes of our time."
Compared with countries such as the United States and Germany, Italy has had relatively few cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests and some observers believe this is because the Church still wields enormous power.
In March, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, an official at the Vatican department that investigates abuse cases, said he was worried about "a certain culture of silence which I feel is still too widespread in the country (Italy)."
Gelmini, known most commonly in Italy as "Father Pierino," founded his "Comunita Incontro" in 1963 and the group has nearly 200 centers in Italy helping drug addicts. It also has operations as far away as Bolivia and Thailand.
(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)
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