, June 29 (IANS/AKI) A 74-year-old priest has been removed from his position in northern Italy after confessing he sexually abused minors.
Alois Kranebitter, parish priest in the Alto Adige region's Bolzano-Brixen diocese, will no longer be allowed to celebrate mass in public and will be obliged to live in a place where he has no contact with children, the diocese said in a statement.
'These cases of abuse date back 20 years. The victims and the priest have been carefully questioned by an ecclesiastical judge and by the bishop,' the statement said.
'The suspect priest deplores his own behaviour. He wants to live out the rest of his old age in penance.'
Bolzano-Brixen's bishop Karl Golser said he wanted 'clarification' about the Kranebitter case and to help the victims.
'We can't put the clock back but we want to do all we can to alleviate the pain of the victims. We also owe the faithful an explanation,' Golser said.
The office of Bolzano's chief prosecutor Guido Rispoli made no immediate comment but earlier in June he met Golser to discuss possible cases of paedophilia among members of the Catholic church in Alto Adige.
Bishop Golser said any priest accused of child sexual abuse must be reported to the Vatican body responsible for disciplining the clergy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
'The worst offenders may be defrocked,' he said. He also stressed there was a 'zero tolerance' approach to the sexual abuse of children by members of the Catholic Church.
Golser said canon law has a longer statute of limitations than Italian law, an advantage for victims of paedophile priests who often only manage to bring the alleged abuse to light decades after it took place.
Italy is one of several European countries where there has been a surge of child abuse allegations against members of the Catholic church.
The US and Brazil have also been hit by similar scandals.