Sicily. Legal aid gratuity for journalists sued by a priest convicted of sexual abuse

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Provided by the Ossigeno Legal Desk to contribute to the legal costs of defending themselves in court against a lawsuit by Don Giuseppe Rugolo

OSSIGENO 15th  May 2024 – The Free Legal Aid Office of Ossigeno (see here), which operates in collaboration with Media Defence, has awarded a cash contribution to cover the legal expenses of the journalists Manuela Acqua and Filippo Maria Occhino, sued in Enna (Sicily) by the priest Don Giuseppe Rugolo. The journalists recount their story below written for Ossigeno.

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I am Filippo Maria Occhino, chief editor of Enna Live, a newspaper that deals with news in the Enna area in Sicily. I have been sued twice for having re-published in my online newspaper two articles by my colleague Pierelisa Rizzo, ANSA news agency correspondent, regarding the trial of the priest Giuseppe Rugolo. In both cases the Enna Prosecutor’s Office had requested their dismissal, but the priest’s lawyers objected. I would like to thank “Ossigeno per l’Informazione” for the precious support and empathy shown towards us. In situations like these the risk of being isolated is particularly high, especially when operating in small provincial businesses like ours. The existence of an observatory that offers support is of fundamental importance. Below are the links where you will find the two articles for which I was sued.

Thank you.

Filippo Maria Occhino


I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Ossigeno per l’Informazione and to all its Observatory staff for the support they have given me by awarding me a financial contribution to cover the legal expenses I have incurred to defend myself from the lawsuit filed against me by Don Giuseppe Rugolo, the priest from Enna convicted of sexual abuse.

This story revealed a dark side of the Catholic Church, characterised by the denial of evidence and the attempt to silence the victims through the mis-use of Caritas funds. Perhaps some were silenced, but Antonio Messina, one of the victims of abuse, found the courage to speak out despite the numerous difficulties he encountered.

When I learned about this episode, I felt an urgent need to investigate and understand how a much loved and respected priest in the city was involved in such abuse.

After following the trial and speaking with Antonio Messina, I decided to express my opinion on this murky affair, immediately identifying a clear division in the city between those who thought him guilty and those who thought him  innocent. This division has fuelled heated discussions on social media without, in my opinion, many having full knowledge and understanding of the facts.

In the midst of this chaos, I was sued for having defined as ‘dangerous’ the priest accused of sexual abuse of minors (and subsequently sentenced by the Court of Enna to 4 years and 6 months for aggravated sexual violence and sexual acts with minors and his being prohibited from taking on any role in schools and other institutions attended by minors).

The public prosecutor asked for the lawsuit against me to be dismissed. The affair could have ended there. But the priest’s lawyers objected, thus forcing me to appear before the judge on May 29th.

This situation has caused me distress and considerable legal costs. I am extremely grateful to Ossigeno for the support it has given me, on both a financial and moral level.

I conclude by reiterating that, if I had the opportunity to go back, I would make exactly the same choices. I am convinced that we need to raise our voices against injustice and live in harmony with justice, regardless of the consequences this may have.

Some people have chosen to distance themselves from me to avoid any association with this story, but I have discovered other people who instead support me, recognizing the importance of living according to the truth.

Manuela Acqua

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