The Daily Mail Online
PUBLISHED: 13:18 GMT, 4 May 2012 | UPDATED: 14:27 GMT, 4 May 2012
- Italian Father Ricardo Seppia given nine years in prison
- Fellow priest said he warned church chiefs in 1994
- Father Seppia arrested after gay nightclub investigation
- He sent ‘obscene texts’ to arrange sex with children
- Case is latest sex scandal to rock Catholic Church
A paedophile priest who plied altar servers with cocaine before sexually abusing them has been jailed for nine and a half years by an Italian court.
Father Riccardo Seppia, 51, was arrested by police after they discovered his activities during an investigation into the supply of drugs to Milan’s gay nightclub scene.
Stunned officers listened in as Father Seppia said: ‘Come on over I’ve got some snow’ – code for drugs. In another conversation he said: ‘Bring the usual gift, I am very lonely.’
When details of Father Seppia‘s case emerged last year in his parish at Sestri Ponente near Genoa he was immediately suspended by his local bishop – although there were claims that church chiefs had been warned about him almost 20 years ago.
Fellow priest Father Piercarlo Casassa said at the time: ‘I told the Church authorities about him in 1994 but I was ignored. People had told me he had a untoward approach with the scouts (altar boys) and I told the authorities he was not the right person to have around youngsters but no-one listened to me.’
His claims were backed up by local parishioners who told Italian media that Father Seppia had been nicknamed ‘The Night Priest’ because of his habit of going out late and sleeping in.
The case is the latest sex abuse scandal to rock the Roman Catholic Church and comes after Pope Benedict XVI said the Vatican would be introducing tougher guidelines on dealing with clergy who take advantage of children.
Two years ago the Vatican was at the centre of a worldwide storm after it emerged there had been thousands of cases of paedophile priests in Ireland, Germany, America and Belgium which were covered up and not acted upon.
Police said the investigation on Father Seppia focused on gyms and saunas in the Milan area which he visited and that two other men – including a former trainee priest – were also questioned as part of the investigation.
He was charged with sexually abusing a 15-year-old altar boy, attempted child prostitution and supplying cocaine. A charge of possessing child pornography was dropped.
Father Seppia appeared in court in Genoa shaven-headed and dressed in a blue shirt and jeans, and hung his head as the prosecutor Stefano Puppo told the judge he had targeted ‘problem children’ and had sent them ‘obscene texts as he tried to arrange sex with them.’
Before the sentence was read out Father Seppia told judge Roberta Bossi: ‘I would just like to apologise for all those erotic SMS texts full or erotic fantasies and blasphemies that I sent to altar boys and other children. I am sorry for my behaviour because it was wrong.’
Judge Bossi dismissed his apologies and sentenced him to four years, two months and twenty days for the sex abuse and attempted child prostitution charges and five years and four months for the drug offences, making a total of nine and a half years. He was also fined €28,000 (£22,700).
He will serve his sentence, a year of which has already been served on remand, in a sex offenders section at nearby San Remo jail.
Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, leader of the Catholic Bishops Conference based in Genoa, refused to comment on the case, leaving it to his spokesman Father Silvio Grilli.
Father Grilli said: ‘We take note of the court’s decision and express once again our pain for what happened to the victim and parishioners. It is appreciated that Father Seppia did apologise when in court.’
Last years new guidelines on dealing with paedophile priests was drawn up by Cardinal William Levada, of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was sent to all clergy members worldwide.
It underlines the Church’s zero tolerance policy on abuse and highlights how to ‘prevent, collaborate and deal’ with civilian authorities investigating abuse claims.
The document tells church officials that they should collaborate with police and report to them any suspected allegations of child abuse – this was not obligatory before the new guidelines.
Two years ago Pope Benedict described his horror at the dozens of sex allegations which hit the Church.
At one stage even he was drawn into the scandal when he was accused of dragging his heels when dealing with a case involving a priest in his native Germany when he was Archbishop of Munich in 1980.