.- Popular Italian priest Fr. Pierino Gelmini, 82, said this week he forgives the drug addicts who were expelled from his institution and accused him of “sexual abuse” as a way to take revenge and demand money from him.
Fr. Gelmini, founder of the “Incontro” community, which has been a successful drug-rehabilitation center, was recently investigated for sexual abuse after accusations were made against him for the first time in his more than fifty years of priestly service.
He cooperated fully with investigators and revealed that he had been receiving repeated phone calls demanding money “in exchange for having the charges dropped.” Fr. Gelmini demonstrated to officials that the accusations were coming from a group of young people who had been receiving treatment at his community but were expelled for repeatedly stealing.
“When they left,” the priest said, “they told me: ‘We’ll make you pay for this.’ But I have forgiven them because they have suffered much in life.” He said he was saddened that the news of the investigation was made public because, though the reports have been retracted he explained, “I have been executed by the media.”
The “Incontro” community has 287 centers in various countries, and according to Dr. Alessandro Meluzzi, a close friend of Fr. Gelmini, “The young people who live there are the main victims of this scandal, as their rehabilitation has been jeopardized.”
Fr. Gelmini told Vatican Radio that despite the accusations, he continues to hold to his life’s motto: “Believe in man despite everything, even when this means putting up with accusations. God sees everything. Do you know what the most reliable court is? Your conscience. In fact, even if one was exonerated but his conscience was still not clean, what good would it be? If, on the other hand, I am accused but my conscience is clear, they I would be able to bear everything for love of God,” he said.
Fr. Gelmini also revealed that one of his accusers wrote him a letter asking for forgiveness. When the priest refused to give him money, the accuser decided to reinstate the charges. “I went to find him where he works and I told him, ‘I have no reason to give you money because you have spoken the truth.’ He got upset and decided to reinstate the charges. So it is evident that I must accept my cross,” he told Vatican Radio.
He said he was sorry that the judges in the case leaked the accusations to the press, but he said he was overwhelmed by the support he has received from residents at his community and from those who have successfully finished the program.
“I won’t stop because of these accusations,” he stated. “I will follow the example of Padre Pio, who learned to accept these things.”