World News

Priests in defunct Catholic order in Italy accused of sexual abuse

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Nine members of a defunct, cult-like Roman Catholic religious order in Italy’s Tuscany region are under investigation for alleged sexual abuse of two brothers when they were minors, authorities said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Statues on top the Bernini's colonnade and Saint Peter's Basilica are seen at sunset in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo

The nine, including five priests and three other men, were members of a religious order called the Disciples of the Annunciation. Late last year the Vatican shut down the small order, which had several communities in Tuscany.

The Vatican dissolved the Disciples following an internal Church investigation into the religious life of their members. The investigation found that it was run like a cult by a charismatic leader.

According to the website of the diocese of the city of Prato, the local bishop, Giovanni Nerbini, informed local magistrates of the suspicions about the group.

Nerbini told a televised news conference that the first phase of the magistrates’ investigation was completed and that the local church would cooperate fully with them.

The Tuscan newspaper La Nazione said the nine were suspected of having had group sex with two brothers when they were minors. The alleged abuse took place between 2008 and 2016.

There was no immediate comment from any of the accused.

La Nazione said investigators had recently raided several houses used by the order in the past, searching for documents and videos.

Nerbini said he believed the nine suspects were no longer in Prato but did not say whether either he or the magistrates had located them.

Sexual abuse and it’s cover-ups have battered the Church’s credibility around the world and forced it to pay billions of dollars in settlements to victims.

The Italian Church has only recently begun to come to grips with the problem of sexual abuse on its territory and more victims, encouraged by action in other countries, have begun coming forward to reveal past abuse.

Reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Timothy Heritage