NEW YORK (NY)
Religion News Service
September 16, 2020
By Claire Giangravé
Catania, Italy – The sexual abuse trial of Piero Alfio Capuana, the lay leader of the 5,000-member Catholic Culture and Environment Association, began in this small Sicilian city on Tuesday (Sept. 15), three years after the abuse allegedly took place.
Capuana, 75, known as “the Archangel” by acolytes, is accused of delegating his associates to select and organize his targets, some as young as 11 years old. The alleged victims told Religion News Service that they would be called to a back room at the Cenacle, as the association’s headquarters is known, after ceremonies in which Capuana would purportedly speak on behalf of the Holy Spirit. Behind closed doors, the young girls said, they would be instructed to bathe him and perform sexual acts.
Three of his closest associates, known as the “12 Disciples,” are also charged, accused of organizing and facilitating the abuse.
Even after accusations that their leader was sexually abusing girls first emerged, few members believed them. When parents watched Capuana kiss their underage daughters on the lips or request solo dances with them, most were not concerned.
Members of the association, still loyal to Capuana, hissed and smirked at the accusers and their families in the courtroom. The large structure, made in the austere style of the fascist dictator Mussolini, dwarfed the small frames of the girls, but even behind their masks their eyes spoke determination. Above the entrance to the courtroom a relief of King Solomon peers down at passersby, his sword drawn to spill the blood of the innocent before the two competing mothers of the famous story.
“The law is the same for everyone” is written in large letters behind the judges, while a black cross looms over the attendants.
While the trial is taking place in Catania, a small city under the shadow of the volcano Etna, it has highlighted the Catholic Church’s lack of oversight over lay Catholic movements, particularly the actions of their often charismatic leaders.
Founded 50 years ago by the Rev. Stefano Cavalli, a “spiritual son” of the revered Franciscan friar and saint Padre Pio, the association was little regulated by the local Diocese of Acireale. For years, according to the government’s detention order against Capuana, Acireale’s bishops dismissed accusations of abuse and attended ceremonies and events at the Cenacle, a word that in church circles refers to the room where Jesus and his Apostles met for the Last Supper.
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