Vatican abuse trial: Prosecution requests jail time for defendants

Hannah Brockhaus   By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA

The flag of Vatican City with St. Peter’s Basilica in the background. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, Jul 16, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

As a nine-month abuse and cover-up trial comes to a close, a prosecutor has asked the Vatican’s court to sentence defendants to jail time.

The tribunal listened to lawyers’ closing arguments during two hearings on July 15 and July 16 in a trial against a former student and former rector at a youth seminary inside Vatican City.

The Vatican’s prosecutor requested a sentence of eight years in prison, reduced to four years, for 28-year-old defendant Fr. Gabriele Martinelli, who is accused of sexually assaulting a slightly younger student at the pre-seminary over a period of six years.

The school’s former rector, 72-year-old Fr. Enrico Radice, is also on trial on charges of impeding investigations into the abuse allegations against Martinelli. The prosecutor asked that Radice be sentenced to four years in prison.

Both of the accused have asserted their innocence of the charges. Their lawyers asked on July 15-16 for their full acquittal.

The court is scheduled to rule on Oct. 6.

The alleged abuse is said to have taken place at the Pius X pre-seminary, a residence for about a dozen boys aged 12 to 18 who serve at papal Masses and other liturgies in St. Peter’s Basilica and are considering the priesthood.

The Vatican announced in May that Pope Francis had decided to move the pre-seminary to a location outside of Vatican City State beginning in September.

The religious group Opera Don Folci, which runs the pre-seminary and is overseen by the Diocese of Como, is a defendant in a civil suit being tried at the same time. The group’s lawyer has also asked the court to acquit it and rejected any request for compensation for damages.

Across 13 different hearings starting last year, Vatican judges listened to testimony from the defendants, the alleged victim, former students and priest teachers at the pre-seminary, and others.

Giuseppe Pignatone, the Vatican tribunal’s president, said on July 16 that “every contribution has been precious, the court at this point is in a position to decide.”

In his testimony in March, the alleged victim, known only as L.G., claimed that Martinelli, who is seven months and nine days older, sexually abused him, starting about two months after he moved to the pre-seminary when he was 13 years old.

In the hearing, a lawyer for Martinelli, who was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Como in 2017, suggested that there were discrepancies and contradictions between L.G.’s testimony on March 18 and his written statement to the Promoter of Justice.

The defense lawyer also argued that what occurred between Martinelli and L.G. could not have been abuse given the closeness of their ages and that there was no power difference between them.

A Vatican prosecutor, instead, recalled testimony saying that Martinelli made threats to L.G., promising to grant important roles in papal Masses in exchange for sexual favors.

Roberto Zannotti, the prosecutor, also referenced an Italian supreme court ruling from 1998, insisting on the concept of consent, which he argued could not be present when L.G. was a minor, and was also not present after he turned 18.

“Consent must not be confused with participation in the act,” Zannotti said.

He also defended L.G.’s credibility in response to statements noting that L.G. reported the abuse some time after it allegedly took place.

At a hearing in February, three different former students of the Pius X pre-seminary had testified that there was an unhealthy culture of ridicule and abuse of power while they were there.

The witnesses also alleged that reports of sexual abuse were ignored or dismissed by authority figures, including the cardinal in charge of St. Peter’s Basilica at the time, Cardinal Angelo Comastri.

At another hearing, Fr. Francesco Vicini, a former student at the pre-seminary and now its vice-rector, testified that he had shared a room with L.G. and Martinelli for a year, and for two years in total with L.G.

Vicini claimed that L.G. was not afraid of Martinelli, stating: “I take it for granted that Martinelli did nothing, it seems obvious to me that he never needed to ask for clarification on rumors that were circulating in the pre-seminary.”

The only trial participant who claimed to be an eyewitness to the alleged abuse was former pre-seminary student Kamil Jarzembowski.

Jarzembowski, who is from Poland, was the first to go to the media about the accusations against Martinelli, which were initially reported by the Italian investigative news program “Le Iene” in 2017.

Jarzembowski testified to the Vatican court in a March hearing that when he was roommates with L.G., he had heard Martinelli come into the room and perform non-consensual sexual actions with L.G. “tens of times.”

The defense lawyer for the Opera Don Folci asserted on July 16 that Jarzembowski was the “deus ex machina” in the affair, claiming that there were contradictions in his testimony and written accounts of the allegations.

Witnesses also gave conflicting testimony about the character of former pre-seminary rector Radice and his behavior toward students.

Martinelli’s lawyer argued that “no elements were brought in to support the accusation” against his client and “the narrative was shaky from the start.

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