An Italian priest Pietro Gelmini, 82, has been accused of abusing people at a rehabilitation center for drug-takers he founded. The priest, famous for his long-term fight against drugs is still under investigation.
The Rev. Gelmini insists there was no abuse and that he is being targeted by a group of addicts who had been kicked out of the center, said his spokesman Alessandro Meluzzi.
Prosecutors in the central Italian town of Terni have been investigating Gelmini for the last six months based on the statements of the men, but no indictment requests have been made so far, Meluzzi said, noting that in Italy authorities are obliged to investigate all reports of a crime.
Calls to the prosecutor's office in Terni were not answered Friday afternoon.
"A couple of guests who were in their thirties and who were kicked out of the community are accusing an 82-year-old man, half blind and with a pacemaker, of abusing them," Meluzzi told The Associated Press by telephone. "The truth is clear."
Gelmini founded the "Comunita Incontro" in 1963 in the Umbrian town of Amelia and the organization now runs more than 200 rehabilitation centers in Italy and abroad, including Brazil, Thailand, and New York in the United States.
The Italian Church has been largely untouched by sex scandals like the ones in the United States, where last month the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay US$660 million to settle abuse claims in the largest payout yet.
Gelmini is highly respected in Italy and has close ties to politicians, particularly in the center-right, and many figures jumped to his defense after La Stampa daily revealed the investigation in a front-page article Friday.
"These are senseless accusations against a man who has worked generously against drugs," said Maurizio Gasparri, a former communications minister and a lawmaker in the right-wing National Alliance party. "There is a complete and total solidarity toward one of the few heroes of out time."