STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Until now, most of the abuse cases getting attention have been in the United States and in northern Europe. But NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports that the cases are moving closer to the center of the church.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: A trial has been under way here for months. The defendant is a charismatic 55-year-old priest, Don Ruggero Conti, charged with molesting seven boys. At each hearing, many parents come to cheer the priest and show their support. Giovanna Baretta has known Don Conti for decades. She entrusted her son, now 30, to the priest's care.
GIOVANNA BARETTA: (Through translator) We believe this is a conspiracy, a witch-hunt. They're slinging mud against an exceptional priest. It's all part of an attack against the church.
POGGIOLI: The atmosphere outside the courtroom is tense. The alleged victims, their lawyers and families, are escorted by the police. Death threats have been made against them and the presiding judge. The alleged victims, some as young as 13 at the time they said they were abused, have given detailed descriptions of sexual violence.
MATTEO MONGIU: (Foreign language spoken)
POGGIOLI: According to alleged victims' lawyers, the trial has already made history. They say it's the first time an Italian bishop has taken the stand in such a case. Bishop Gino Reali, Conti's direct supervisor, admitted he knew of the accusations made against Conti by numerous people two years before the arrest. Reali was visibly uncomfortable when he was asked why he did not stop Conti's contact with children.
GINO REALI: (Through translator) I tried to stick to facts because I believed I needed to act based on facts, not rumors. Lots of rumors end up on my desk.
POGGIOLI: Roberto Mirabile, president of an association that works on behalf of pedophile victims, laments that in Italy clerical sex abuse is still a taboo topic.
ROBERT MIRABILE: (Through translator) What we see is a very disconcerting mentality of a church hierarchy which still does not grasp the devastating effects of pedophile crimes on minors. This trial is proof of how much hypocrisy exists around this issue.
POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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