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POPE-CANTINI Oct-14-2008 (280 words) xxxi

Pope laicizes Italian priest accused of sexually abusing minors

By Catholic News Service

FLORENCE, Italy (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI laicized an Italian priest accused of sexually abusing minors for decades in his parish near Florence, Italy.

An Oct. 12 statement by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, former archbishop of Florence, said that in a decree dated Sept. 19, the pope also ordered Father Lelio Cantini, 85, be confined under surveillance to a private residence and dedicate himself to prayer and penance.

Cardinal Antonelli, whom the pope appointed to head the Pontifical Council for the Family in June, said he had asked the pope to laicize Father Cantini, reported the Italian daily La Repubblica Oct. 13.

In his statement, the cardinal said the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith determined Father Cantini was guilty of multiple and serious instances of sexual abuse against minors, soliciting sexual relations during the sacrament of reconciliation and "abuse of ecclesiastical power in the formation of consciences."

Father Cantini was removed from ministry in 2007 after a diocesan church administrative penal process found him guilty of sexually abusing young girls between 1973 and 1987, as well as "false mysticism" and the coercion and manipulation of consciences.

However, a criminal investigation by Italian prosecutors followed after a number of alleged victims and priests from the diocese made their claims and concerns public when the priest received what they considered to be "too light" a punishment from the church.

Cardinal Antonelli said at the time that the penalties, which included making a yearly donation to charity and reciting a prayer of repentance daily, had taken into account Father Cantini's "advanced age" and "unstable state of health."

The new penalties ordered by the Vatican include risk of excommunication if the now-defrocked priest fails to comply, the cardinal said.


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