October 12, 2020
By Nicole Winfield
Two priests are going on trial in the Vatican’s criminal tribunal this week, one accused of sexually abusing an altar boy who served at papal Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica, and the other accused of covering it up.
The trial, confirmed Monday by the Holy See press office, marks the first known time that the Vatican has criminally prosecuted a case of sexual abuse that allegedly occurred within its walls.
The proceedings starting Thursday were forced on the Holy See after victims and a whistleblower went public in 2017. Their stories undermined Pope Francis’ pledges of “zero tolerance” for abuse because the alleged crimes occurred in his own backyard and had gone unpunished for years.
The case concerns the closed world of the St. Pius X youth seminary, a palazzo inside the Vatican walls just across the street from where Francis lives. The seminary serves as a residence for about a dozen boys, aged 12 to 18, who serve as altar boys at papal Masses.
A onetime seminarian, the Rev. Gabriele Martinelli, is accused of molesting a younger seminarian when he himself was a senior altar boy at St. Pius X. The Rev. Enrico Radice was the rector of the seminary at the time, and is accused of aiding and abetting the crime.
Neither Martinelli nor Radice has responded publicly to the accusations. The order that runs the seminary, the Opera Don Folchi, has said the allegations were “mud” and “calumny,” though the diocese of Como where both men are now priests has removed them from ministry with minors pending an outcome of the case.
The scandal is particularly grave because the allegations of abuse were known since at least 2012 but were covered up for years by the Vatican and the diocese of Como, until they were exposed by Italian journalists Gaetano Pecoraro and Gianluigi Nuzzi in 2017.
They relied on the eyewitness testimony of the victim’s roommate, Kamil Jarzembowski, who was kicked out of the seminary after first reporting the abuse privately to church authorities in 2012.
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