An Italian priest who was found carrying a gun during a security check on a ferry told police he had been given it ‘during a confession’ and could reveal no details.
The 33-year-old priest, who has not been named by officers, said he could not ‘betray the confessional box’ but eventually added he had been asked to ‘get rid’ of the gun.
Security guards called police after the .9 calibre handgun showed up during an x-ray check on the holy man’s luggage – nestled between a Bible and set of rosary beads.
It was discovered as the priest, dressed in black robes and wearing a dog collar, boarded a ferry at Civitavecchia, north of Rome, which was bound for Cagliari on the island of Sardinia.
He was taken to a cell at Civitavecchia jail, where the Salesian order priest insisted for several hours that Catholic doctrine banned him from revealing details as the gun had been given to him during a confession.
Eventually he told police that it had been handed to him by a ’70 year old parishoner’ who had asked him to get rid of it and he had planned to throw it into the sea mid voyage.
Police chief Antonio Del Greco said: ‘For the time being the priest will have to stay in custody. He is being held on suspicion of illegal possession of a firearm.
‘The weapon was found in his luggage during a security check before he boarded a ferry heading to Sardinia – which left without him.
‘He has told us the briefest of details about how he got the gun during a confession and what he was supposed to do with it but he refuses to say anymore because he cannot betray what he was told.
‘All he has told us is that it was given to him by a 70 year old parishioner during confession who asked him to get rid of it.
‘When he was asked why he hasn’t called police the priest said he could not reveal details of what he had heard during the confession.’
Mr Del Greco said that ballistic checks would be carried out on the gun to see if it matched any recorded crime and when it was last fired.
He added:’We need to know the history of the gun and why the priest had it in his luggage. Until we get some answers he will remain in custody.’Vatican officials have been informed and the priest is due before a judge on Monday for a preliminary hearing.
Under the Catholic Church’s Canon Law, ‘it is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason’.
A priest, therefore, cannot break that code to save his own life, to protect his good name, to refute a false accusation, to save the life of another, to aid the course of justice, or to avert a public calamity.
He cannot be compelled by law to disclose a person’s confession or be bound by any oath he takes and if he does he could be defrocked and excommunicated.
Earlier this year, a man from Ohio was arrested by police after he ran into a New York church and told a priest he had killed his girlfriend and the authorities were immediately alerted.
A priest at the church later explained that if the man had decided to make a full confession in a booth then they could have done nothing but as he had simply rushed in and grabbed a priest it did not count.