A Sicilian priest and a soldier have been arrested for sexual abuse, which they carried out under the guise of spiritual 'healing', local media reported on Friday.
The pair, both based in Palermo, used the pretext of liberating victims from demonic possession in order to abuse women and children. The two were named by media as Salvatore Anello, 59, who belonged to the Capuchin order, and Salvatore Muratore, 52, who worked for the Italian army in Palermo.
The men reportedly convinced victims that they were possessed by evil spirits, before carrying out a 'healing prayer' in their homes which involved "repeatedly touching their genitals", Palermo Today reported.
Anello was arrested at dawn on Friday morning and is being held in police custody, following a six-month long investigation into Muratore, who was a member of a local prayer group, and claimed to be able to perform exorcism.
Muratore is thought to have abused at least four women and one girl, while the priest is charged with abusing two women and three minors.
According to La Stampa, prosecutor Giorgia Righi said Muratore "took advantage of victims in a state of psychological fragility", and justified his groping by saying he was freeing the 'demon of lust'.
He might well have been doing just that but it was his demon he was freeing, and freeing to do what?
The army said Muratore would be suspended immediately and that it would co-operate fully with investigations.
Although priests are permitted by the Catholic church to carry out exorcisms, the rite should only occur with authorization from the diocesis, and Anello was not recognized as an exorcist.
The investigations are ongoing, with police working to identify any further victims.