A priest and an army colonel pretending to be exorcists have been detained in Sicily. Investigators have said they took advantage of ill women and sexually abused them.
A Catholic priest posing as a "healer" and "exorcist" was arrested in Sicily on sexual molestation charges, Italian media reported on Friday. 59-year-old Salvatore Anello is charged with inappropriately touching four adult women and a 12-year-old girl.
His case follows a similar one a few months earlier in Palermo, wherein Colonel Salvatore Muratore was charged with 10 counts of molestation while a member of the Renewal of the Holy Spirit Catholic community.
According to La Repubblica newspaper, Anello was arrested by investigators from the state police's child protection unit at a Capuchin convent. Prosecutors claim he took advantage of women who came to him for help when he was a chaplain at a local hospital. He claimed he could free them of demonic possession with "healing prayers", and took advantage of the situation to molest them.
The Diocese of Palermo has said that Anello is not authorized to act as a exorcist, La Repubblica reported. Indeed, exorcisms officially condoned by the Catholic church have dwindled significantly since the doctrine behind the practice was revised in 1999.
The Renewal of the Holy Spirit community has also distanced itself from Colonel Muratore, who lured victims with a similar ruse. "He has never held a position of responsibility within the movement," they told the press.
Victims, most of them seriously ill or in an unsound psychological state, told the police Muratore promised to pray over them as a exorcist for the movement. He would then come to their homes to "free the demon of lust," as he put it. The Renewal of the Holy Spirit was founded by a famous exorcist, Father Matteo La Grua, who passed away in 2012.