Vatican abuse trial: Update

We first reported on the start of the trial of two priests accused of abusing an altar boy and of covering the abuse up, respectively, in November 2020.  The alleged abuse is said to have taken place at a seminary in the Vatican (technically a ‘pre-seminary’ preparatory school). Since our initial report, the Court has only sat for nine days in total. Now, four former students at the seminary  where the alleged abuse took place, have given evidence. One of the former students asked the journalists at the trial to refer to him by his initials, MB, because he soon will be ordained as a priest.

The abuse is said to have occurred between 2007 and 2012. Both the accuser and the accused (Rev. Gabriele Martinelli) were under the age of 18 when the alleged abuse started.  However, Martinelli is accused of continuing to abuse the younger student, until the former was 20. 

Statements were taken from witnesses by Vatican investigators in 2018, and parts of these statements have been read out at the trial.

MB was the only one of the four witnesses to tell both the court and the investigators that the young man (LG) accusing Father Martinelli had told him of the abuse.  He had also told the investigators in 2018 that, “these facts were known to many at the pre-seminary.”

MB confirmed that he and the complainant had been roommates for two years.  LG had testified that Father Martinelli would come into his bed at night and abuse him.  However, MB said that “I did not witness what LG told me happened to him at night.”  MB said he was a heavy sleeper, and had not seen Martinelli come into their bedroom.

Monsignor Enrico Radice, the former rector of the seminary, is also on trial and is accused of hindering the Vatican’s investigation into the abuse allegations.   The seminary and the Opera Don Folci, the religious institution that runs the seminary, are accused of failing to protect its students.

Andrea Garzola, another former student, said he never witnessed any sexual acts or abuse while in the seminary, but Father Martinelli did grab his genitals once, which led to a big fight.  After that Martinelli, who was in charge of assigning students roles at Vatican Masses, “assigned me to minor Masses.”

Thomas Compagnoni, who entered the pre-seminary in 2013 at the age of 12 but remained for only one year, said that it had been LG who encouraged him to enter the seminary.  He said that LG had never said anything to him about being abused.

Another former student, Father Francesco Vicini  – now the current Vice Rector of the seminary in question –  said he was LG’s roommate in 2006.   In his statement, he described LG as being ” a very serene boy, but he became grumpy over the years” and went on to say that LG was very “jealous” of Martinelli because of his role deciding which altar boys should serve at  major and minor Masses.

In oral evidence, Father Vicini said that ” LG was not afraid of Martinelli” and “argued with him about everything….if he disagreed with something, he made himself heard”.  Father Vicini said this led him to believe Martinelli had not done anything wrong.

The trial is continuing.

In linked news, Pope Francis has decided to move the seminary outside of the Vatican City. It has been suggested, that by moving the seminary into Italian territory outside of the Vatican City’s jurisdiction, the Vatican may be able to distance itself from the management and responsibility for the care of its students. Should any future complaints arise, it would then be up to the Italian courts to deal with any consequential legal ramifications.


Written by James Chambers at BLM (james.chambers@blmlaw.com)

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