Operation Pedopriest: Italian censorship on videogames?

By EDRi · August 29, 2007

In the past weeks a small online videogame has been the center of much
controversy in Italy, with center-right MPs explicitly asking
governmental intervention in its removal, questioning once again the
limits of freedom of expression in the country.

Everything started when Molleindustria, a group of “artists, designers
and programmers that aims at starting a serious discussion about
social and political implications of videogames”, developed and
published on its website a small Flash-based videogame called
“Operation Pedopriest”. Molleindustria was already quite famous in
Italian specialized circles for its Flash-based games on politically
sensitive topics, including exploitation of workers and gender

“Operation Pedopriest” was Molleindustria’s provocative follow-up to
the recent BBC documentary “Sex, crimes and the Vatican” and the hot
debate that raged in the Italian political world when the documentary
was broadcasted on the public TV network. Echoing the claims of the
documentary, players of “Pedopriest” are in control of so-called
“silencers”, priests intimidating parents of abused children in order
to avoid police intervention. Apparently, some MPs from the UDC party
(Unione dei Democratici Cristiani e di Centro – Christian and Center
Democrats Union, currently in the center-right opposition coalition)
were not amused by the game.

On 26 June 2007 Luca Volontè, head of the UDC group in the lower chamber,
issued an official request to the Ministers of Internal Affairs, of
Cultural Goods and Activities and of Communications. In the request,
Mr. Volontè lamented the existence and wide availability of a “flash
game (…) whose goal is to attack the (Catholic) Church and Pope
Benedetto XVI” and asked the Ministers “which urgent measures they
plan to adopt in order to avoid that freedom of expression (…)
become an alibi to offend human and religious sensitivity and which
measures they plan to put in place in order to avoid (…) offences to
(…) religious confessions in general and to the catholic religion in

Of particular interest, the request by Mr. Volontè stressed the fact
that the videogame depicted “simulations of rapes on children”; this,
according to Mr. Volontè, violated Italian Law 38/2006 (“Measures
related to the fight against sexual exploitation of children and
pedopornography, including via the Internet”) and specifically the
prohibition of obtaining or trafficking with “virtual images” of
child pornography.

Notwithstanding the fact that, as many commentators argued, Law
38/2006 defines “virtual images” as “images made using techniques of
graphical elaboration […] whose quality makes unreal situations look
real” (which was obviosuly not the case of “Operation Pedopriest”, a
very stylized, lo-res game) the statement by the Minister of Internal
Affairs that the website of Molleindustria was already “under
examination” and that “judicial authority” had been informed was
enough for Molleindustria to take action.

On 1 July, Molleindustria announced the removal of “Operation
Pedopriest” from the website, “in order to not worsen the situation of
our webspace provider that is legally responsable for all the
content”. As could be expected, shortly after its removal the game
started to be mirrored and copied all around the Internet, in Italy
and abroad. What had probably not been expected was that on 2 July,
the domain name was registered by a member of the art
group “Les Liens invisibiles” and used for a parody of Mr. Volontè
official website – an almost exact copy, but with the game “Operation
Pedopriest” shown in good evidence.

This prompted a reaction that took the form of a precautionary seizure
of the website by the Postal Police of Frosinone (Rome) on 9 July.
According to a communiqué by Les Liens invisibles, the seizure was
based on violation of art. 494 (“Replacement of person”) and
art. 593(3) (“Defamation through the press”) of the Italian Criminal
Code. The content on was replaced with a dry
notice of seizure.

However, the saga was not (and is not) finished. On the same day of
the seizure, the domain name “” was registered and
used for the same parody of Mr. Volonté website; this time, however, a
US hosting provider was chosen. According to some non-verified inside
sources, the Italian prosecutor of the case is considering whether to
issue an international request to US authorities.

If the “Operation Pedopriest” case might seem solved, the larger
problem of how much freeedom of expression Italian citizens can expect
to be granted remains, especially in light of the Government’s
worrying theories on the harsh limits that art. 21 – the article of
the Italian Constitution defending freedom of expression – should meet
when confronted with “religious sensitivity”.

The web site of Molleindustria

Sex, crimes and the Vatican (29.09.2006)

Official website of Luca Volontè

Luca Volontè request (in Italian only, 26.06.2007)

Official response to Luca Volontè’s request (in Italian only, 28.06.2007)

Law 38/2006 (in Italian only, 6.02.2007)

First parody of Mr. Volontè website (now seized)

Linking the Invisible (in Italian only, 10.07.2007)

Second parody of Mr. Volontè website

(Contribution by Andrea Glorioso, consultant on digital policies – Italy)