Italian police issue warrants for former religious group members accused of abuse

Prato cathedral Credit Massimilianogalardi via Wikimedia CC BY SA 30 Prato cathedral. | Massimilianogalardi via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Civil authorities in Tuscany have issued warrants against nine people accused of sexual abuse; they are the founder and former members of a Church group suppressed by the Vatican in December.

The warrants were issued after the Bishop of Prato, where the former group was located, reported an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor to the police.

Bishop Giovanni Nerbini reported the allegations after being informed of the Dec. 16 suppression of the Disciples of the Annunciation by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

An allegation was first brought to the attention of the diocese in June 2019. Nerbini in December alerted the local police, who issued arrest warrants Jan. 29 for nine members of the group, five of whom are priests, including the founder, Fr. Giglio Gilioli, 73.

Nerbini said at a press conference Jan. 29 that the action was taken "responding above all to a need for truth, a truth that had to be sought, that had to be discovered and that should be made known."

"This whole affair, regardless of how it ends, is an occasion of great pain, seeing the suffering this has caused in everyone, in those who accuse, in those who are accused, in those who listen, in those who see."

In June 2019, the Diocese of Prato received the complaint of sexual and psychological abuse by members of the community several years prior, when the alleged victim was a minor, according to a press release on the diocese's website.

Bishop Franco Agostinelli, then head of the diocese, reported the allegation to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the diocese stated. It also stated that the CDF opened an administrative penal procedure into the accusation starting in September. A CDF official reached Monday could not confirm this information.

Agostinelli retired as Bishop of Prato in May, but the current bishop, Nerbini, was not installed until September.

Formed in 2005, the Disciples of the Annunciation was recognized as a public association of the faithful by the Vatican in 2010.

The community had a Marian focus and hosted young men from different countries interested in the religious priesthood.  

The group was first investigated by the Diocese of Prato in 2013 after many members had left the community or asked to become priests of the diocese.

The Vatican investigation was launched in 2018, resulting in the group's dissolution for what the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life said were "the same critical issues exacerbated by a further reduction in numbers, by attitudes of distrust and detachment towards the diocesan authority and by strong doubts about the founder's style of government and its suitability in holding this role."

The guidelines of the Italian bishops' conference on the protection of minors and vulnerable people, adopted in June 2019, does not require clerics to report abuse to the civil authorities, though it encourages openness and collaboration.

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