Priest jailed for sexual abuse inside Vatican in ‘Pope’s choirboys’ case

The Telegraph [London, England]

January 24, 2024

By Nick Squires

Father Gabriele Martinelli sentenced to two and a half years for abusing altar boy at youth seminary few yards from Pope Francis’s residence

A Catholic priest has been jailed for sexually abusing an altar boy within the walls of the Vatican in the first legal case of its kind.

In what the Italian media called the “Pope’s choirboys” case, Father Gabriele Martinelli, 31, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison by a Vatican court for sexually abusing a minor when both of them were enrolled in a youth seminary located just a few yards from Pope Francis’s residence.

It was the first Vatican trial involving sexual abuse inside the walls of the Vatican, the world’s smallest sovereign nation.

The St Pius X youth seminary was a residence for boys aged 12 to 18 who served as altar boys at masses led by the Pope in St Peter’s Basilica.

In the wake of the scandal, Pope Francis decided in 2021 to relocate the seminary outside the Vatican to a location in central Rome.

Priest cleared at first trial

The sexual abuse began in 2007, when Martinelli was 14 and the younger boy 13, and continued until 2012.

At an initial trial in 2021, Martinelli was acquitted of accusations he had forced his victim, known only by the initials LG, to “undergo carnal acts, acts of sodomy, masturbation on himself and on the boy, at different times and in different places inside Vatican City”.

But his acquittal was overturned on Tuesday by a Vatican appeals court. Martinelli was found guilty of corrupting a minor by forcing him to have sex and fined €1,000 in addition to his jail term.

“My client has finally had his years of suffering recognised,” said Laura Sgrò, the lawyer who represented the victim.

“It’s an historic sentence which I hope will lead to a deeper reflection on the subject of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.”

In the initial court ruling, Father Enrico Radice, 74, the former rector of the seminary, was cleared of covering up the abuse because of the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Victim accused of vendetta

Both Martinelli and Radice have consistently denied wrongdoing and accused the victim of having a personal vendetta against them.

The case came to light when the abuse was reported by another altar boy who shared a room with LG.

The witness, a Pole named Kamil Tadeusz Jazembowski, alleged that Martinelli would come into the room at night to have sex with LG.

Mr. Jazembowski was expelled from the school but his testimony prompted a Vatican investigation that began in 2017.

“I don’t blame the priests for being gay,” Mr Jazembowski, who now lives in Gdansk, said in 2017.

“All this is a vast hypocrisy. During the day these people are homophobic, at night they are unleashed in gay clubs.”