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Accused priest asserts innocence at Vatican seminary abuse hearing

VM141020094024 0018 The first hearing of an abuse trial takes place at the Vatican court Oct. 14, 2020. / Vatican Media.

At a hearing on Wednesday in a trial for alleged abuse and cover-up at a Vatican youth seminary, a defendant asserted his innocence, imputing abuse accusations to jealousy and divisions within the institution.

“These are unfounded accusations,” Fr. Gabriele Martinelli said during two hours of questioning in a Vatican courtroom on Feb. 10.

Martinelli, 28, has been charged with using violence and his position of authority to commit sexual abuse against a younger student at the Pius X pre-seminary in Vatican City.

The defendant further claimed that the allegations were made because of a desire to prevent his priestly ordination.

“Speaking of abuses, they struck me but they wanted to strike the pre-seminary above all,” he said.

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Martinelli is alleged to have committed the abuse from 2007 to 2012. He continued his seminary training afterward and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Como in 2017.

The St. Pius X pre-seminary is 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.

Located on Vatican City territory, the pre-seminary is run by a Como-based religious group, the Opera Don Folci.

Martinelli was an alumnus of the youth seminary and would return as a visitor to tutor and coordinate the students’ activities. He is accused of abusing his authority at the seminary and taking advantage of relationships of trust, as well as using violence and threats, to force his alleged victim “to undergo carnal acts, sodomy, masturbation on himself and on the boy.”  

The alleged victim, identitied as L.G., was born in 1993 and was 13 at the time the alleged abuse began, turning 18 about a year before it ended.

Martinelli asserted on Wednesday that it would have been impossible for him to sexually abuse another student without someone at the seminary noticing, including when he and the alleged victim were roommates, because there was a third roommate who slept in the room.

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He also said that it would have been impossible to commit abuse in a bathroom under the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica due to its small size and the fact that during the week, only one altar boy was needed, and on Sundays, nine or 10 boys served at the altar. 

“Everyone would have noticed if something had happened,” Martinelli asserted.

A former roommate of the alleged victim and alleged witness to the crime, Kamil Jarzembowski, has said in the past that he reported abuse by Martinelli in 2014. Jarzembowski, who is from Poland, was later dismissed from the pre-seminary. It is unknown if Jarzembowski will testify in the trial. 

Martinelli claimed that there were deep divisions among students at the seminary, which reflected a conflict between the then rector and vice rector, who disagreed about liturgy and their preferences for the Old or New Rite of the Mass.

Fr. Enrico Radice, 72, the seminary’s former rector, is also a defendant in the same trial on the charge of impeding investigations into the abuse allegation.

Radice was questioned at the last hearing, which took place on Nov. 19, 2020. He said that he never saw or heard of abuse in the pre-seminary.

The former rector maintained in his testimony that Martinelli was “sunny, joyful, on good terms with everyone,” while the alleged victim was “pedantic, presumptuous” and had a “predilection” for the Old Rite of the Mass.

In his testimony, Martinelli denied having been Radice’s protégé or having had a position of power within the youth seminary. He said that he worked with the rector and papal master of ceremonies to choose which seminarians served as altar boys at which Masses and always followed directions “very well.”

“Many people thought I was a jerk, probably also because of my personality. To each his own,” the defendant said.

During the hearing, the court was shown several messages sent on the messaging apps Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp between the defendant and alleged victim, from after they had both left the seminary.

In messages, L.G. accused Martinelli of having a “sexual perversion,” of “being interested only in people’s pains,” and of hurting him and of making him look bad to others.

Martinelli said that L.G. never addressed him verbally or in writing about the accusations and cited messages from 2012 in which the alleged victim asked him for help finding an apartment to rent.

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Four anonymous letters sent by the alleged victim accusing Martinelli of abuse were also cited during the trial. The letters had been sent to Radice; Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica since 2005; Bishop Diego Coletti, the retired bishop of Como; and Pope Francis in June 2017. 

The next court hearings, scheduled for Feb. 24-25, will be dedicated to witness testimony.

The alleged abuse victim, L.G., will take the witness stand in mid-March when there will also be a visit to the premises of the youth seminary.

The Feb. 10 hearing, the fourth in the trial, was presided over by Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican tribunal.

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