A leading right-wing leader and close ally of conservative candidate for premier Silvio Berlusconi proposed Tuesday that pedophiles be treated with chemical castration.

The comment by Gianfranco Fini came in response to recent reports that a convicted pedophile who had been freed pending appeal raped a 4-year-old in Sicily. The case rekindled a debate over the justice system in Italy — where sentences are usually not served until all appeals are exhausted — and over the punishment for sex offenders.

"Chemical castration is not a penalty, it is a therapy," Fini, a former foreign minister and deputy premier, said during a radio show. "Pedophilia is certainly a disease, (and) it is one of the most vile and atrocious crimes."

Fini added that "to say ... 'let's increase penalties' is not enough."

Fini is running alongside Berlusconi at the April 13-14 elections in a conservative grouping called "Freedom People."

The center-left candidate for premier, Walter Veltroni, also commented on the case days ago, calling for an "iron fist" and harsher penalties in the face of an "inhuman crime."