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Apr 17, 2010 at 11:49am IST

Indian priest faces jail term for sex abuse

Rome: An Indian priest who confessed to sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl in the central Italian province of Abruzzo could face up to 12 years in jail.

Under Italian law, the penalty for sexual violence against a child under the age of 14 ranges from six to 12 years.

The 40-year-old priest, who has been named as 'David', comes from the southern city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu.

Under Italian law, the penalty for sexual violence against a child under the age of 14 ranges from six to 12 years

He was released from prison in the town of Teramo, 175 km northeast of Rome, Thursday and remains under house arrest in an undisclosed location, believed to be a local convent.

"He is feeling relieved now that he is under house arrest," said Davide Pagnottella, a priest and friend from the Teramo diocese told AKI.

Pagnottella said it was not clear when the priest's court hearing would be held since the timetable was up to the judiciary.

He it should be recognised as "an isolated case" and justice should be allowed to take its course.

"He has suffered a great deal because he understands the seriousness of what he has done," Pagnottella said.

"Naturally he is part of a culture that is very different to our own," he said.

"He is having trouble with the language, and this has created more problems on top of his psychological pain."

Pagnottella said the priest had not had any contact with his ailing mother since he returned to Italy from India Monday.

The priest Wednesday admitted to visiting the girl at her home Dec 19 last year and after offering her a Santa Claus doll placed her hand on his genital area.

His defence lawyer Giovanni Gebbia could not be contacted Friday but previously declined to discuss the potential sentence his client may face.

He said his client had been singled out because of the "current climate" after a wave of sexual abuse allegations by priests has shaken the Catholic Church in the US, Germany, Ireland, Italy and several other countries.

The Vatican is now strongly urging bishops to report abuse cases to civil authorities if required by local law.

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