Don Bosco (1815-1888) is an Italian priest born from a poor family, famously known in the Catholic community for his life-long work in favor of poor children. He has been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1934. He is the creator of the Salesian Society, dedicated to fostering boys and providing them with a Christian education, as well as apprenticeship to get a qualified job as artisan. Through his congregation, hundreds of thousands of boys have benefited from his actions through the years. Many Catholic schools nowadays refer to him in their name and/or claim his heritage.
Controversy about his sexuality
Through his biography, he seems to not have been attracted to women, but to have demonstrated an unusually strong affection for boys, whose he dedicated his life to. His close contacts with boys, as well as his whole vision of the role of the boy educator, "a child among the children", and of course his life-long dedication to boys only, suggest he had some homosexual - pedophile (boy love) attraction. Some testimonies of contemporaneous observers and writings by Don Bosco himself reinforce this idea too.
But some, in particular people linked to Catholic Church, contest he was homosexual or pedophile, mainly on the basis that he condemned homosexuality and defended purity and chastity in regards to sexual matters. However, this argument is more relevant to his actual sexual behavior than to his real sexual attraction.
Relationships with boys
In his young adult years, he tried and attracted street boys of Torino by performing acrobatics in the streets. He provided them with a shelter and education. His methods of education were quite revolutionary for the time, as it emphasized understanding and caring love towards children rather than repression.
One of the most documented relationship he had with boys was with Domenico Savio, whom he served as spiritual guide. Domenico Savio met Don Bosco at the age of twelve, and impressed him with his dedication to reach sainthood. Don Bosco took him in his institute to prepare the boy to priesthood, and they developed an intense friendship, but Domenico died before his 15th birthday. His very detailed story related by Don Bosco allowed later the boy to become the younger non-martyr saint canonized by the Catholic Church.
Don Bosco tried and helped the boy find a balance between the strict demands of Christian faith regarding sanctity and the normal life of a boy, reminding him for instance that "a sad saint is a sorry saint". When, in an excess of fervor, the boy started performing extreme penances, Don Bosco forbade him to continue, telling him all Jesus asked from him was a simple obedience to God's commands, as well a grateful attitude towards Him and His creation. On the whole, Don Bosco's guidance seems to have allowed Domenico to enjoy his young life with peace of mind while pursuing his unique, demanding spiritual path.
Some allegations of sexual contact between a boy and Don Bosco have been made by the boy himself years later, but there is a lack of formal evidence to support it. From the testimonies collected, Don Bosco seemed to be really attached to protecting the boys' "purity" and encouraged them towards chastity.