Vatican Sex Abuse Trial Ends With Call for Six-Year Sentence for Priest


VATICAN CITY — The first trial involving charges of sexual abuse inside the walls of Vatican City ended this week, with a prosecutor asking that one defendant, now a priest, be sentenced to six years in prison. A verdict in the case is expected in October.

In his closing arguments on Thursday, the prosecutor, Roberto Zannotti, said that as a youth, the Rev. Gabriele Martinelli, now 28, had repeatedly abused another youth known only by his initials, L.G., throughout the five years both were boarders at the seminary for young boys who are altar servers in St. Peter’s Basilica.

L.G. said he was 13 when the abuse began, seven months younger than his fellow youth seminary resident who became Father Martinelli.

Mr. Zannotti also asked that another priest who was on trial, the Rev. Enrico Radice, serve four years in prison, saying he had looked the other way while the sexual abuse against L.G. was taking place at the youth seminary.

Defense lawyers insist that the abuse never occurred, though they complained about the initial narrative that emerged in Italian media, which cast the case as an example of pedophilia occurring within the Vatican’s walls.

Mr. Zannotti argued that Gabriele Martinelli was a dominant presence at the seminary, able to coerce L.G. into doing his will by offering plum rewards, like serving mass with the pope, in exchange for sexual favors.

He called what transpired “acts of violence” that were allowed to continue because Father Radice, then the seminary’s rector, covered for the accused abuser. The rector’s “behavior is even more serious,” Mr. Zannotti said, “because of his role and his obstinacy in covering up facts that were evident to all.”

The case drew international headlines, in part because the institution — St. Pius X youth seminary — is a stone’s throw from Casa Santa Marta, the residence of Pope Francis, who more than any other pontiff has tried to put an end to the scourge of sexual abuse of minors by clerics in the Roman Catholic Church.

Francis has enacted new legislation, created a commission intended to protect minors and held a global summit at the Vatican in 2019 to better educate his bishops and enact change.

In his closing remarks on Thursday, Dario Imparato, a lawyer for L.G., described the environment at the youth seminary as “foul, noxious and rotten.” The case illustrated the “failure of small, closed communities, impermeable to the outside,” which leads to “abuses of power,” he said, adding that it was just “the tip of the iceberg.”

The alleged abuse is said to have taken place between 2007 and 2012, when L.G. left the youth seminary. Father Martinelli was ordained as a priest in 2017 and now lives at a residence for senior priests in northern Italy.

The accusations against Father Martinelli and Father Radice first came to light in 2013, via an anonymous letter to Pope Francis the same year he was chosen as pontiff. At the time, an investigation begun by the bishop of Como, in northern Italy, where the order that oversees the seminary is based, found the accusations to be groundless.

It was only after the accusations against the two priests were made public in a book and an investigative television program in 2017, that a new inquiry was opened, which led to the Vatican trial that began last October.

The prosecution’s case rests almost entirely on L.G.’s complaint and on the testimony of another boarder at the youth seminary, Kamil Jarzembowski, a Polish student who shared a room with L.G., and specified that he witnessed the alleged abuse two or three nights a week for much of his stay in the seminary.

No other witnesses have come forward. Agnese Camilli Carissimi, a lawyer who is representing Father Radice, said it was likely that other seminarians would have witnessed such frequent incidents of abuse.

Emanuela Bellardini, one of the defense lawyers, called Mr. Jarzembowski, the “deus ex machina” of the case, whose accusations on the television show “Le Iene” brought the case into the public sphere.

Mr. Jarzembowski was expelled from the seminary for not obeying rules, and lawyers for the defense argued that his accusations against Father Martinelli and Father Radice were motivated by revenge and financial gain. Both he and L.G. have sued the Opera Don Folci, the Como-based order that oversees the seminary, for compensation for the suffering they say they have endured.

In May, Pope Francis ordered that the residence be moved outside the Vatican before the next academic year starts in September.

Lawyers for the Opera Don Folci, Father Martinelli and Father Radice closed their defense this week denying that any sexual abuse ever took place at the youth seminary. They asked that the two priests be cleared of all charges.

“This trial should never have taken place,” Rita Claudia Baffioni, Father Martinelli’s lawyer, said Friday. The prosecution was never able to prove that any abuses took place, she said.

The president of the Vatican court, Giuseppe Pignatone, said that the verdict would be issued on Oct. 6. “Every contribution has been precious,” he said. “At this point, the court is able to decide.”

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