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Priests acquitted in historic Vatican seminary abuse trial

A Vatican City State judge on Wednesday handed down verdicts in the trial of two priests accused of abuse and cover-ups at a Vatican City preseminary for minors, clearing them both of the charges against them.  

The Vatican Gardens. Credit: Ruth Johnston/CC BY 2.0

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Prosecutors had alleged that Fr. Gabrielle Martinelli, a former student of the St. Pius X preseminary, had sexually abused preseminary students during his time as a student at the school. The abuse is alleged to have taken place between 2007 and 2012. 

Msgr. Enrico Radice, a former rector of the seminary, was also a defendant in the trial. He was accused of attempting to discredit Martinelli’s accuser, and of lying to Vatican investigators in 2018, stating that he had no knowledge of any sexual activity ever taking place at the preseminary.

The trial was the first criminal trial of clerics in the Vatican City’s civil court on charges of sexual abuse of minors — clerics are routinely tried in the Holy See’s canonical courts for such crimes, but not in the criminal court of the Vatican City State. 

But because the crimes alleged in the trial reportedly took place in a seminary located inside the Vatican City State, Martinelli and Radice were tried in the territory’s ordinary criminal court.

According to prosecutors, Martinelli used his authority as a senior student to threaten another seminarian, only seven months younger than him, into sexual favors, or bribed the seminarian with choice altar serving assignments into performing sexual acts.

Martinelli has said allegations were made by a former seminarian with a “vendetta” against him.

In a verdict issued Oct. 6, Martinelli was cleared of allegations — the judge found there was insufficient evidence to prove he had abused students after he himself was no longer a minor, and that he could not be found guilty for crimes he had committed before he turned 16. 

The judge found that an additional charge against Martinelli — that he had bribed minor students to have sex with him, would not be resolved because the statute of limitations on bribery had expired.

The court did not dispute that Martinelli, now 28, had had a sexual relationship with another seminarian, but found no evidence the relationship was coerced.

Radice was found not guilty of covering up the abuse, because insufficient evidence that he had lied during an investigation, and because the statute of limitations on related charges had expired.

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The St. Pius X Preseminary is run by Opera Don Folci, a religious community under the supervision of the Diocese of Como. It is located within the Vatican Gardens, and is home to about a dozen boys, aged 12-18, who are discerning a vocation to the priesthood and who serve liturgies in St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Pope Francis has announced that the seminary will move outside the Vatican City State.

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