Film director Zeffirelli tells of being abused by priest


ITALY: Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli has revealed in an autobiography that he was sexually assaulted by a priest while attending a Roman Catholic school in Florence as a child.

He said the priest had begged his forgiveness afterwards and that he had not been emotionally damaged by the incident.

The 83-year-old film, opera and theatre director recalled how he had felt sorry for the priest and said homosexual experiences "are not always bad for boys".

"I don't think they make you homosexual," he said. "Sexual choice is made for you early on in life anyway - if you like girls, you like girls." Zeffirelli said he only admitted his own homosexuality publicly a decade ago, preferring to be discreet about his personal life.

In Autobiography, released to coincide with the director's fifth production of Aida at La Scala in Milan on December 7th, Zeffirelli also writes about the circumstances of his birth in 1923.

He was the result of an affair between a fabric salesman and a recently widowed seamstress.

"She attended the funeral of her husband with the child of another in her womb: a terrible scandal," he said, according to excerpts published in Corriere della Sera newspaper. Since his mother could not use her surname or that of her lover, she gave the boy the name Zeffiretti, a term used in Mozart's Così Fan Tutte. It was mis-spelled in the registry and became Zeffirelli.

The book describes the director's childhood after his mother died when he was six and he was raised by British expatriates in Florence, a story that inspired the semi-autobiographical film, Tea With Mussolini.

He also recounts how Coco Chanel gave him 12 drawings by Matisse, which he sold for food and rent.