Don Paolo Turturro, vicar of Santa Lucia parish in the Mafia-infested Brancaccio slums of Palermo, made the disclosure in his sermon at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
'A lad came to me in church and told me weeping: 'Father, I have killed many times, can I ever be forgiven?' ' the Corriere della Sera quoted him as saying. 'Now that boy is living shut up at home for fear of being killed.'
When questioned by magistrates, Don Turturro declined to talk, invoking the secrecy of the confessional.
But it was too late. The priest, commented the Corriere, should have kept silent 'for what he said, no doubt with the best of intentions, is a partial violation of the secret of the confessional. In fact, he has provided clues that could identify the assassin.'
Bishop Ersilio Tonino, of Ravenna, said on Italian radio: 'This is very grave and I hope he did it without realising what he was doing . . . nothing can justify the violation of the secret of the confessional.'
But Don Luigi Ciotti, a priest to whom a number of big criminals have confessed, disagreed. Don Turturro's disclosure 'could do a service in the fight against the Mafia. It could be a valuable signal.'
According to church law the secret of the confessional is inviolable, and that is accepted in Italian law.
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