Vatican hands down first-ever conviction for sexual abuse committed on its grounds

Euronews [Lyon, France]

January 25, 2024

By Giulia Carbonaro

An Italian priest and ex-altar boy has been convicted to 2 years and 6 months in prison for committing sexual abuse against a minor, a student he was tutoring in a vocational institute.

The Vatican has handed down its first-ever conviction for sexual abuse committed on its grounds to an Italian priest, Gabriele Martinelli, 31, who had previously been acquitted of the same and other crimes for lack of evidence.

Martinelli is a former student of Saint Pius X Pre Seminary, a vocational institute in the Vatican that hosts the pope’s altar boys. In 2020, he was first tried in court for sexually abusing a seminary student he was tutoring in August 2010, but the case has failed to find him guilty of the charges.

That initial verdict was reversed on Tuesday, when a Vatican court found Martinelli guilty of abusing the trust of the student and forcing him to years of abuse. The priest’s harassment of the student was confirmed by his then-roommate, a Polish national.

Martinelli was found guilty of the crime of “corrupting a minor” and sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison.

The sentence is an indication that the Catholic Church might now be taking a tougher approach to crimes committed by its own members. 

While for decades stories of sexual abuse committed by priests across the world tended to be buried by the Church and hardly made it into the public conversation, numerous victims have been calling for justice in recent years, contributing to putting pressure on the Vatican to address the problem.

Last year, an independent commission reported that more than 4,800 children were abused within the Catholic Church in Portugal over the past seven decades, though the actual number could be even higher.

Thousands of survivors of abuse have shown up after the Spanish newspaper El País launched its first investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in 2018.

study published in September 2023 in Switzerland found more than 1,000 cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the country, saying that was just the “tip of the iceberg.”

Similar scandals have hit traditionally Catholic countries like Ireland, Italy and France.