Father Francesco Caramia, the name mentioned in one of Fr. Peschiulli's conversations with his friend, was the priest in charge of the parish in the neighborhood of Bozzano, in Brindisi, and one of Abp. Talucci's "favorites." In December 2015, Caramia left his ministry claiming "health problems," when in reality he was being investigated — not because of Peschiulli's accusations against him, but because a pediatrician denounced him for sexually abusing a boy between 2007 and 2010, when the victim was only nine years old.
Last February the victim was heard and his declarations included the threats made by the 42 year-old priest: "He forced me to perform sexual acts with him. It would also happen in the sacristy. Sometimes he would push me hard and threaten me, telling me that if I spoke to anyone he would find a way to make my father lose his job and his house." He also said Fr. Caramia promised him he could be an altar server in exchange for the acts.
Caramia is denying the charges, and is currently waiting for the conclusion of the investigation in complete liberty, being very active on social media. The archdiocese of Brindisi-Ostuni released a note on the case:
The Archbishop of Brindisi found out with distress about a priest in town facing charges of very serious transgressions. The accused firmly rejects the accusations and claims to be able to defend himself adequately... . Monsignor Caliandro trusts the Judiciary and awaits the results of the inquiries. If the crimes are confirmed to be true, the diocesan authority shall act with determination and the greatest regard for the victims, following the teachings of Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors.
For someone who appears to be so confident in his own innocence, Fr. Caramia hasn't spared any expense on obtaining a top-rate legal team: he has hired as his advisor criminologist Roberta Bruzzone, an Italian television personality and forensic psychologist, author of numerous books and a regular guest on TV shows. Caramia's lawyer is Giancarlo Camassa, the same one who accompanied the ex-archbishop of Brindisi, Abp. Talucci, in his hearing regarding Fr. Peschiulli's case. But their friendship goes back a long way.
In 1988 the small town of Mesagne, in the province of Brindisi, became the stage of a brief mystical experience: Pino, a vendor at the local farmer's market, had a Mary statue in his house that wept tears of blood. The phenomenon quickly faded, but the small community attributed the occurrence to the known religious vocation claimed by Pino's son, Francesco Caramia, 14 at the time, who was already adamant about his sacerdotal call. In 1996 he entered the seminary, and in 2001 Abp. Tallucci, already head of Brindisi, ordained him a deacon. From that moment on, Caramia was taken under Talucci's wing. In 2002 Caramia was ordained a priest and a vicar, and in 2005 he became the archbishop's private secretary. In 2008 he was appointed his own parish.
Not long after that, Caramia crossed paths with another Marian devotee, Paolo Catanzaro. In 1992 Paolo, at that time a 17-year-old who lived in Uggio, on the outskirts of Brindisi, claimed to have regular visions of the Virgin Mary. These apparitions captivated the attention of the Brindisi faithful, and soon Paolo had a loyal following. In 1994, the then-archbishop of Brindisi-Ostuni, Settimio Todisco, worried about what might be a deceptive Marian phenomenon, and judged the visions as inauthentic. The official note stated, "I declare there is no evidences for the authenticity of what is happening in the region of Uggio. ... Anyone who attends [the phenomena at] Uggio should not receive the sacraments or engage in communal Church life."
Despite Todisco's decision, his successor Abp. Talucci, without ever revoking his antecessor's measure, allowed Catanzaro to partake in Church life. Catanzaro set up a musical group called Signum, supported at the parish headed by his friend Fr. Caramia, where most of the concerts took place. When the group launched its second album in 2012, Caramia himself issued high praise for its work: "These boys have done something big not only for themselves, but for everyone who will listen to them and be able to smile again. ... Their perfect sound is a work of art, like the world created by Our Lord".
In 2014 Catanzaro underwent sex-reassignment surgery in Thailand, and decided to finally marry his male partner. In 2015 his passion for singing was replaced with the quest for an acting career, with Paolo adopting the stage name "Sveva Cardinale." He has announced the current making of a film based on his life, and according to director Stefano Calvagna, it should be ready in time for the next Berlin Film Festival. About his main character's story, Calvagna explained:
It's the story of a child born in the wrong body. ... He also finds himself forced to face problems with pedophilia. I tried to tell the story of the violence he suffered as a child, the struggles with his parents, the awareness of being born in the wrong body. He demanded to be called "Julia" by others, up to his decision to undergo sex-change surgery at the age of 35.
While Fr. Caramia is dealing with sex abuse investigations, Paolo — now Sveva Cardinale — is facing fraud charges for a scam where the victim, between the years of 2007 and 2011, gave Paolo over 200,000 euros in exchange for miracles and a "guaranteed place in Paradise."
In the next instalment: Yet more clergy involved in the homosexual, sex-abusing network in Brindisi.
Juliana Freitag is ChurchMilitant.com's Italian correspondent.