Vatican Puts Priests on Trial Over Alleged Abuse Within Its Walls

ROME – A priest accused of sexually abusing an acolyte in a prominent Vatican City seminary and another accused of covering up have the first trial in the city-state for sexual offenses in the Vatican criminal court on Wednesday Abuse led walls.

The indictment dates back to 2007 and 2012 and focuses on allegations of abuse at the St. Pius X Youth Seminary, a residence for boys – usually between the ages of 12 and 18 – who are thinking of becoming priests. Seminary students often serve as acolytes in St. Peter’s Basilica, sometimes during papal masses.

The priest accused of abuse, Rev. Gabriele Martinelli, was 17 years old at the time of the first alleged attack and a senior acolyte at the seminary. The victim was 16. In 2017, Father Martinelli was ordained a priest in Como, Italy.

Father Martinelli is accused of threatening and violence against the victim – publicly identified only by his initials – “submitting to carnal relations, sodomy and masturbation” on Wednesday readings by a court clerk in Vatican City.

Rev. Enrico Radice, who was rector of the seminary at the time, was charged with aiding and abetting the abuse. He lied to Vatican investigators, telling them in 2018 that he was unaware of any abuse in the seminary, statements that hampered the investigation, according to charges read by the clerk.

Both defendants were present in court on Wednesday for the trial hearing, which lasted just eight minutes before the trial was adjourned until both men are expected to speak out later that month. None of the defendants responded publicly to the allegations, and the defendants’ lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

Reports of the crimes first surfaced on Italian news outlets in 2017, but the two priests were not charged until 2019. The reports were mainly based on reports from Kamil Jarzembowski, the victim’s roommate, who said he witnessed the abuse and was subsequently kicked out of the seminar. He said he first reported the abuse to church authorities in 2012.

The indictments read in court on Wednesday indicated that the abuse had been known since at least 2013, when Father Radice wrote a letter to a bishop refuting the victim’s allegations against Father Martinelli.

The Vatican City Seminary is run by a religious association based in Como, a city in northern Italy. Shortly after the 2019 indictment, the Diocese of Como issued a statement stating that the 2013 charges against Father Martinelli had been brought to the attention of officials, but that the religious authorities investigating the allegations had found them unfounded.

In 2017, after abuse reports surfaced in the Italian media, the Vatican asked the diocese to conduct a new investigation. The diocese did not publish its results but sent a report to the Vatican. The 2019 Diocese of Como Declaration also stated that both Father Martinelli and Father Radice were “restricted in the exercise of their ministry and excluded from performing pastoral activities with minors and vulnerable adults”.

The scourge of sexual abuse has messed up the Roman Catholic Church for decades, and thousands of cases of assault and subsequent cover-ups have surfaced around the world. While Pope Francis has pledged “zero tolerance” for criminals, held an unprecedented meeting with bishops to protect minors, and passed various instructions and laws, including one to hold Vatican City criminals accountable, critics say the measures don’t go far go enough.

While the Vatican has prosecuted a sexual abuse crime that first occurred inside the city walls, it has prosecuted prelates accused of sexual crimes elsewhere.

In 2014, the Vatican placed Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who was accused of sexually abusing boys whom he met on the street as the Vatican’s ambassador in the Dominican Republic, under house arrest. Father Wesolowski died in 2015 shortly after his trial began.

In 2018, a Vatican tribunal sentenced a former Vatican diplomat to five years in prison and fined approximately $ 5,800 for possession and distribution of child pornography.

Although Father Martinelli and Father Radice are now on trial, victims’ rights lawyers have accused the Vatican of only acting after news reports exposed the abuse allegations.