Vatican trial for priests accused of abuse and cover-up in Vatican City youth seminary

CNA 551c2a08da4ff 52047 View of St. Peter`s Basilica from the roof of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross on April 1, 2015. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

The Vatican's criminal court is expected to begin this week the trial of two Italian priests, one accused of sexual abuse at a pre-seminary inside Vatican City, and the second accused of covering up the alleged crime while serving as the seminary's rector.

The proceedings are due to begin Oct. 14 at 9:30 a.m. in the tribunal of Vatican City State. It is thought to be the Vatican's first criminal prosecution for abuse allegedly committed within its own territory.

The two defendants are Fr. Gabriele Martinelli, a 29-year-old former student at the Vatican's St. Pius X youth seminary, and Fr. Enrico Radice, the seminary's rector for 12 years. Neither man has commented publicly on the allegations.

The pre-seminary is intended to encourage priestly vocations and is the residence of about a dozen altar boys aged 12 to 18 who serve at papal Masses in St. Peter's Basilica.

Martinelli is accused of having repeatedly sexually molested, from around 2009 to 2012, a slightly younger boy who was living at the youth seminary. The abuse is alleged to have begun when both men were minors and continued until after Martinelli's 18th birthday.

The accusations were made by another former student of the pre-seminary, and the roommate of the alleged victim, Kamil Jarzembowski, who claims to be an eyewitness to the crimes.

Jarzembowski first reported the accusation in 2014. He was dismissed from the seminary, while Martinelli was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Como in 2017.

The initial abuse allegation was first revealed by Italian journalists in 2017, and then reported by the Associated Press in 2018.

In September 2019, the Vatican's Promoter of Justice requested the indictment of the two accused men.

According to a September 2019 statement from the Vatican, an investigation into the accusations began in November 2017, after the Italian reports, but Vatican law at the time prevented a trial from taking place without a complaint from the alleged victim within a year of the crime's occurrence.

In June 2019, Pope Francis made a special provision allowing the case to proceed, the Vatican said.

The case will be the Vatican's first to be tried by the retired Italian lawyer Giuseppe Pignatone, appointed to lead the Vatican's criminal court by Pope Francis in October 2019.

The St. Pius X youth seminary was opened in 1956 at the request of Pope Pius XII, who wanted a place to foster vocations to the priesthood within Vatican walls. The pope entrusted the management of the pre-seminary to Fr. Giovanni Folci, a priest of the Diocese of Como, who had founded a religious group dedicated to vocations.

The Opera Don Folci still manages the youth seminary, which is located not far from the Santa Marta guesthouse where Pope Francis resides.

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