Nine members of a religious order that was abruptly shuttered by the Vatican are under investigation for sex assault, the diocese confirmed Wednesday after allegations emerged linking the group to the abuse of two young brothers.
Prato Bishop Giovanni Nerbini, who reported allegations against priests and lay members of the now-defunct Disciples of the Annunciation community to police, pledged the church's cooperation in the case.
The siblings were boys at the time of the suspected abuse but came forward to denounce it as adults.
The Vatican dissolved the diocesan-approved association in December without mentioning abuse.
Nerbini's predecessor had reported the allegations to the Vatican, rather than the police, sparking an internal investigation into the community.
Catholic clergy are not obliged to report child sex abuse in Italy, to the frustration of victims and support groups who have long accused the Church of covering up alleged crimes and simply moving suspected predators to other dioceses.
The community's founder Giglio Gilioli, 73, was among those under investigation, according to the Nazione regional daily.
The sun sets over St Peter's Basilica (Rear R) at the Vatican, which abruptly shuttered a religious order whose members are under investigation for sexual assault