Rome - An Italian priest known for his work among drug addicts dismissed allegations of sexual abuse as a conspiracy by a "radical Jewish lobby" bent on weakening the Roman Catholic Church, reports said Sunday.
Father Pierino Gelmini, 82, was quoted as saying by two newspapers, Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, that the allegations were levelled by some youths who had been thrown out of his Incontro (Encounter) Community for theft.
Gelmini said they "had probably found some anticlerical judge" to open the inquiry.
"Think about what happened in America, the instrumentalisation of American paedophile priests. The church made an error in paying compensation. If I make a mistake, the entire Catholic Church should not have to pay for me," he told Corriere della Sera.
"But this seems as if it was a strategic act made by this global lobby - how shall I put it - the fashionable radical Jewish lobby, which emanates from America ... and tries to weaken the whole church", he said.
Gelmini's broadside came after La Stampa daily Friday published a report saying he was under investigation in Terni, in central Italy, after "four or five" former young patients of one of his drug recovery centres filed sexual abuse complaints.
But Gelmini's spokesperson, Alessandro Meluzzi, hastily denied the comments fingering the so-called Jewish lobby.
"He may have been misunderstood, I am not sure that he said that. Don Gelmini is referring to a certain anticlerical culture that comes from the United States, which feeds off of paedophile scandals worldwide," Meluzzo told AFP.
"Don Gelmini considers members of the Jewish community like big brothers".
Gelmini is viewed as a "spiritual guide" by some Italian right-wing politicans, including Silvio Berlusconi.
He founded the Encounter Community in 1963 to help drug addicts and other people in need. Their centres spread throughout Italy in the 1970s and 1980s as well as in France, the United States, Brazil and Thailand. - Sapa-AFP