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Latvian priest faces rape charge ahead of papal visit

© AFP/File | A Latvian Catholic priest has been arrested on rape allegations, and a second man was also arrested on suspicion of trafficking in the case, which has shocked the Blatic state as it prepares to receive Pope Francis

RIGA (AFP) - 

A Latvian Catholic priest has been arrested on allegations he raped a mentally handicapped victim of human trafficking, police in the capital Riga said Wednesday ahead of a papal visit.

A second man was also arrested on suspicion of trafficking in the case, which has shocked the Baltic state as it prepares to receive Pope Francis from September 22.

"One of the suspects 'delivered' the defenceless victim for a fee, the church representative, who was the end buyer, paid the fee and then committed violent sexual crimes against the victim," said Armands Lubarts, chief of a police task force on human trafficking and pimping.

The priest, identified as Pavels Zeila, 73, served in the Aglona?Rezekne diocese in eastern Latvia, which is to host Pope Francis during his four-day tour of the three Baltic states.

Zeila's lawyer flatly denied the allegations and the Catholic diocese of Rezekne said Zeila must be presumed innocent.

The allegations are the latest to hit the Catholic Church, which was rocked last month by a devastating US report into child sex abuse accusing more than 300 "predator" priests of abusing more than 1,000 children over seven decades in the state of Pennsylvania.

The pope has sharpened his criticism on the explosive issue -- but he remains under pressure to make far-reaching changes.

Zeila faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of sex abuse, while the other suspect could be sentenced to 12 years if convicted of human trafficking.

© 2018 AFP