Vatican appeals court sentences priest to prison for sexual abuse of teen

Catholic News Agency - EWTN [Denver CO]

January 24, 2024

By Matthew Santucci

The Vatican Court of Appeals sentenced an Italian priest to jail on Jan. 23 for “the crime of corruption of minors” relating to the sexual abuse of a fellow student at a school for papal altar boys.

The case is being called historic, as it is the first such ruling that has been handed down for sexual violence perpetuated on Vatican sovereign territory. 

Father Gabriele Martinelli was accused of forcing the former altar server, identified as L.G., to have sexual relations with him between 2007 and 2012 while they were students at the St. Pius X pre-seminary.

Martinelli was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 1,000 euros (about $1,089.78) to cover the legal proceedings, Vatican News reported

The 31-year-old Martinelli was ordained to the priesthood in 2017 and is a priest in the Diocese of Como in northern Italy and a member of the “Opera don Folci,” a religious association centered on the formation of priests.

The St. Pius X pre-seminary, where Martinelli was enrolled, offers a formation in the liturgical functions of St. Peter’s Basilica, including papal Masses, for middle and high school boys who are considering a vocation to the priesthood.

The institute was formerly located in Palazzo San Carlo, in Piazza Santa Marta, in the Vatican, just steps away from Pope Francis’ official residence of Casa Santa Marta. However, given the controversy surrounding the cover-up of abuse and Martinelli’s trial, Pope Francis announced the decision to move the pre-seminary to a new location outside Vatican City in 2021. 

The allegations against the priest were first reported by Italian journalists in 2017 and by the Associated Press in 2018. At the time, the Vatican was unable to proceed with a case against Martinelli given that the charges were brought against him outside of the one-year statute of limitations.

On June 29, 2019, Pope Francis intervened to allow the case to proceed by lifting the cause of inadmissibility. 

On Dec. 8, 2021, the pope in his broader efforts to be more transparent in the handling of sexual abuse cases introduced a sweeping revision to canon law. The revisions introduced new penalties for the cover-up of sexual abuse, mandated that allegations of abuse be immediately reported, and reclassified sexual crimes from under the title of “Crimes Against Special Obligations” to “Offenses Against Human Life, Dignity, and Liberty.” 

Martinelli’s trial began in October 2020; however, on Oct. 6, 2021, the Vatican’s lower court acquitted Martinelli of the charges against the younger peer, citing insufficient evidence. 

Charges of “aiding and abetting” were also dropped against Father Enrico Radice, the former rector of the pre-seminary. 

The Vatican appeals court’s Jan. 23 decision partially reversed the 2021 lower court decision, having found evidence that Martinelli was guilty of “the crime of corruption of minors.” 

The appellate court ruling, the Italian network ANSA reported, noted that Martinelli “is not punishable limited to the facts contested up to Aug. 2, 2008, as he is under 16 years of age” and acquits him “of the crimes accused of him in relation to the period following Aug. 9, 2008, due to insufficient evidence” but confirms “the reclassification of the facts in dispute as supplementary to the crime of corruption of minors foreseen and punished by article 335, criminal code, limited to the period from Aug. 9, 2008, to March 19, 2009.”

The conviction can still be appealed to the Vatican’s highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. 

The victim of Martinelli’s abuse spoke with the Washington Post, on the grounds of anonymity, following the conviction. 

“The first feeling I had was this: For years I was told I was a pervert, a faker, a liar, a madman, who was exploiting this for his own ends,” the victim disclosed to the Washington Post.