Italian police have arrested a Catholic priest suspected of sexual abuses on underage boys. Father Roberto Elice, 40, was taken into custody in Rome over crimes he allegedly committed during his tenure as parish priest of the Maria Santissima Assunta church of Palermo, Sicily, which he reportedly left only a few weeks ago.

He was reported to police by a parishioner after her two sons, aged 13 and 15, complained about the priest's alleged inappropriate behaviour. Elice reportedly had a close relation with the family of his victims.

Authorities said he paid for the two boys to go on a pilgrimage abroad, during which the first abuses allegedly took place, to then continue back in Palermo. Detectives said that Elice, in a moment of discomfort messaged another parishioner, confessing to the crime.

The written conversation was retrieved during the investigation, which revealed an older incident in which a third man, at the time underage, was also allegedly abused by the clergyman. The arrest marks the latest in a series of scandals of paedophilia and sexual abuse to hit the Catholic Church in recent years.

Corrado Lorefice, the archbishop of Palermo, said he was "pained" upon learning of the alleged crime. "The archbishop... expressed his sincere solidarity to the victims of the violence and to their families and asks for their pardon," the diocese said in a statement.