First trial of its kind to be held in the Vatican as abuse alleged to have taken place within its walls

A trial opened last month in the Vatican’s criminal tribunal for two priests – one accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in the Vatican’s youth seminary and the other accused of covering it up.  The trial is the first of its kind to be held within the Vatican.

The Vatican tribunal is comprised of a president and four judges who are chosen from university professors and jurists, with proven experience in civil, criminal or administrative matters.

The priest accused of abuse, Rev. Gabriele Martinelli, was 17 at the time of the initial alleged assault and was a senior altar boy at the seminary at the time.   He is accused of abusing the victim by using threats and violence – on a number of occasions in the Vatican City.

The assaults are alleged to have taken place between 2007 and 2012 at St. Pius X youth seminary, which is inside the Vatican walls and very close to where Pope Francis lives. The seminary serves as the residence for boys aged 12 to 18, who serve as altar boys at papal Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The former rector of the seminary, the Rev. Enrico Radice, is charged with having helped Martinelli to avoid investigation, by rubbishing the victim’s allegations to the Bishop of Como (where Martinelli had been ordained in 2017), and by stating he knew of no sexual misconduct in the seminary.  The Diocese of Como has stated that after initially clearing Martinelli of the allegations, it restricted his ministry after ‘new elements’ emerged in 2017.

The allegations of abuse were known of since at least 2012, but were not brought to light until they were exposed by Italian journalists in 2017, when they interviewed the victim’s roommate. He alleged that he was expelled from the seminary after he reported to church authorities in 2012, that he had seen Martinelli abuse the boy on several occasions, in their dorm room.

 On Tuesday 27 October, having heard submissions from the survivor’s attorney, who argued there was evidence of gross negligence and “lack of vigilance” in the way the seminary operated,  the Tribunal agreed to broaden the trial to allow the abuse survivor to sue the seminary itself, and the body that runs it (the Opera Don Folchi),  Under Vatican criminal law, the survivor was present as a ‘civil party’ This development substantially broadened the scope of the trial, and in effect means that the Tribunal will now make findings in relation to a civil claim for damages as well as the charges against the two priests.  The defendant priests were not questioned at this hearing.

The Tribunal will next sit on 19 November.

James Chambers, Associate, BLM

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