Italian Court Convicts Priest in Sexual Abuse Case Amid Church Scandals

Il Messaggero [Rome, Italy]

March 5, 2024

By Franca Giansoldati

Once again, it is only from the Italian judiciary that convictions for priests accused of sexual abuse come: the court of Enna has set a sentence of 4 years and 6 months for Don Giuseppe Rugolo for the crime of aggravated sexual violence against minors.

This is a Sicilian priest whose scandalous story had also brought to light cover-ups by the bishop, transfers of the pedophile priest from one diocese to another just to calm the waters, payments of money with Caritas funds to silence the victim, and even several threats to journalists who were following the story.

The sentence was issued this afternoon after 8 hours of deliberation. The decision was read by the president of the court, Francesco Pitarresi, during an open-door hearing after the entire trial had been held behind closed doors.

The investigation had started from the complaint of a young man today in his thirties, who told the mobile squad of Enna about the violence he suffered from 2009 to 2013. The young man had also written a letter to the Pope two years ago, which the Messaggero had anticipated to tell him his story, hoping that measures would be taken. ‘Holy Father, I turn to you as the head of the Church in which I believe and always trust. I turn to you as a last resort.’ It was October 20, 2020, and the victim, signing with his name and surname, wrote a desperate letter to Bergoglio to report the abuses suffered for years, when he was still a minor, by a priest from Enna. It was the last chance he gave himself before going straight to the Police Station.

Among other things, the Pope was informed that the bishop of Piazza Armerina, the Sicilian diocese where the events took place – Monsignor Rosario Gisana – despite ‘knowing everything’ seemed to procrastinate, ending up transferring the priest to the North, to Ferrara, with the official reason that he had to complete his theological studies.

In the meantime, since ecclesiastical justice was mired, and not even receiving a response from the Pope, the victim turned to the Italian magistrates. The boy in the letter to the pontiff describes in detail his bureaucratic ordeal he was subjected to by the Church: ‘In 2018 I filed a written complaint to Monsignor Rosario Gisana, who had already been informed by my parents who had gone to him’. In fact, the victim’s mother and father had a long meeting with the bishop of Piazza Armerina but nothing happened. ‘I found myself going through a useless ordeal of private hearings, interrogations, meetings that led to the initiation of a preliminary investigation that involved the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of Palermo’. However, ‘nothing more was heard of’ that canonical investigation. In short, the usual rubber wall. In the meantime, as the investigations began, it emerged that the bishop on the phone with a priest of his diocese said: ‘I have covered up this story’.

The Vatican had in fact supported the transfer of Don Rugolo to the North. In the more than two thousand pages of procedural documents, a disheartening social cross-section was painted that framed a very tough trial, always held behind closed doors.

Don Giuseppe Rugolo is a former religion teacher, very active in a parish frequented by many teenagers and children. The priest had been arrested in Ferrara, where in the meantime he had been ‘moved’ by the bishop. In the arrest warrant, the magistrates wrote: ‘The suspicion of sexual deviance seems to be shared by the bishop Gisana himself who, following the news of the facts reported by the victim, arranged for the transfer of the suspect to Ferrara also with the aim of starting him on a psychotherapeutic path.

Moreover, the investigation amply demonstrated how the sexual habits of the suspect had been and still are characterized by notes of perversion. From the analysis of the content of the religious computer, it emerged, in fact, that he habitually and maniacally surfs, at any time of the day and night, on average 60 times a day in the last ten months, on countless pornographic sites, traceable with the keyword ‘teen’, and that more recently he had homosexual relations with two young men just nineteen years old.

After the arrest of the priest in the Sicilian diocese, pandemonium broke out, even with petitions of solidarity to Bishop Gisana to defend him from the accusation of having covered up and transferred the abusive priest. Meanwhile, the victim was offered a sum of 25 thousand euros as compensation through Caritas. The Caritas money was used to ensure the silence of the victim raped by Don Giuseppe Rugolo. The circumstance was confirmed in court by Antonio Ciavola (then head of the Mobile Squad of Enna and now in service in Caltanissetta), during the trial.