VERONA - Abuse victim Dario Laiti is deaf and has great difficulty speaking.

VERONA - Abuse victim Dario Laiti is deaf and has great difficulty speaking.

But he has a clear message for Pope Benedict: expose predator priests, past and present, living and dead, for the good of the church.

"I think the pope has to carry out justice," Laiti told Reuters in this northern Italian city.

"He has to get rid of all the priests who abused children.

"He has to tell the world who these people were and which of them are still living."

So far, the pope has not spoken out directly on the new wave of sexual abuse allegations that is hounding the church in a number of countries, including the United States, Italy and his native Germany.

Laiti, 59, and others who say they were abused as boys in the church-run Antonio Provolo School for the deaf decades ago have joined a growing list of victims who are calling on the pontiff to say more and directly address the crisis.

The diocese of Verona has opened an investigation into the accusations.

It says while some abuse may have taken place at the school in the 1950s and 1960s, it was not as extensive as some of the former Provolo students claim.

Victims have come forward in many places, including Germany and the US.

But Laiti and his former schoolmates stand out in a country where the Roman Catholic Church still wields enormous power.

"I think this is just the tip of the iceberg," said Marco Politi, a Vatican analyst and papal biographer.

"The church has a culture of secrecy in every country, but here in Italy, unlike in some Anglo-Saxon countries, it is still a big player in politics, so people are still afraid of coming out and criticising it," Politi said.

Last month, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, an official at the Vatican department that investigates abuse cases, said he was worried about "a certain culture of silence which I feel is still too widespread in the country (Italy)".

The former students of the school, run at the time by the small Company of Mary priestly order, signed statements in late 2008 saying they were abused by about two dozen priests, brothers and lay religious men, mostly in the 1960s.

Their stories have gained more attention as the abuse scandal swirls around the world and hits the Roman Catholic Church's image.

Some are now questioning whether the pope, then known as Joseph Ratzinger, mishandled cases of abuse when he was a bishop in Germany and a Vatican official before his election in 2005.

Laiti and two other victims, Gianni Bisoli, 61, and Moreno Corbellari, 60, described their ordeals in interviews with Reuters in Verona where city officials have given their association space for meetings.

"I went to the Provolo when I was six years old and after a few weeks they started molesting me, two or three times a week, for six or seven years," said Laiti, who worked as a delivery man for a local car parts company before his retirement.

"They masturbated me, they made me masturbate them, they sodomised me."

Bisoli, 61, said he too was molested at night in bed, in the baths and in the carpentry shop. He attended the school from 1957 to 1963 before running away.

He said he was forced to perform oral sex and was sometimes "bathed and perfumed" and taken to the residence of the then bishop, who has since died.

"I looked at the ceiling which looked liked it was in a museum and he would say 'how beautiful you are'. I did not know what to do. One time he took my clothes off," Bisoli said, adding that it happened "four or five times", starting when he was 12 and until he was 14 or 15.

Asked what the pope should do, Bisoli said: "He should get rid of the (abuser priests). And if he is responsible he should resign."

The Verona archdiocese opened an investigation into accusations of abuse shortly after the Italian newsweekly L'Espresso first wrote about them last year.

Monsignor Bruno Fasani, a spokesperson for the diocese, said priests, brothers and staff who worked at the school from the 1950s to the 1970s were questioned after the magazine report and said they were not aware of any systematic abuse.

He said the investigation found that decades ago two young "aspiring priests" were "immediately dismissed" when it was discovered that they were sexually attracted to boys.

Fasani said that when the diocesan investigation started, one brother who worked in the school decades ago and is now over 80 admitted to having abused boys.

When told he would have to undergo therapy and be further investigated, he left the order.

The results of the Verona investigation were sent to the Vatican last year and the Vatican responded two months ago, telling the diocese to continue the investigation by convoking all those who say they were abused and hear their stories.

"We want to clear it all up," Fasani said.

"Though something might have happened, saying that 24 priests and brothers were abusers out of a total of 28 in the entire religious order just does not stand up.

"We are looking for the truth." - Reuters