AN ITALIAN priest under investigation for allegedly diverting earthquake relief funds has been cleared.
Fr Armando Venezia had been charged in late August with collecting £100,000 in the United States for relief work following autumn's earthquake in southern Italy.
The earthquake, which claimed 3,500 lives, virtually destroyed the little mountain town of Sant'Angelo Dei Lombardi, where Fr Venezia is pastor of St. Anthony the Martyr Parish. The accusation against the pastor came in an anonymous letter to the local prosecutor's office. An inquiry automatically follows in such a case,.
This month Franco .Roberti. the local judge. declared the priest fully exonerated and said that "the facts do not exist" to sustain the accusation made. During the course of the 10-week investigation, Fr Venezia's innocence was staunchly proclaimed by his parishioners. After the priest had been formally cleared. many parishioners pasted copies of the judge's decision throughout the parish. Fr Venezia said "It has been a terrible experience. but I am happy only because truth has prevailed. Even the one who has sought to defame me remains for me a brother to love.
* Pope John Paul II urged 35 bishops from southern Italy on Saturday to lead the way in rebuilding their region, devastated by the earthquake.
"It is necessary to reconstruct everything: houses. jobs, towns. The bishops of the areas struck by the quake must be the ones to encourage and support everyone." the Pope said.