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Priest is absolved of raping altar boy in first sexual abuse trial heard by Pope’s criminal court

A Vatican tribunal absolved a priest of charges that he raped an altar boy in the Vatican’s youth seminary, in the first clergy sexual abuse tribal to be heard by the Pope’s criminal court.

Father Gabriele Martinelli, now 29, was accused of repeatedly raping the boy, identified only as LG, while they were altar boys and mostly when they were both minors between 2006 and 2012.

Meanwhile, Father Enrico Radice, 72, who was the former rector of the youth seminary, was accused of covering up the attacks. 

But a three-judge panel acquitted Martinelli of some charges and ruled others couldn’t be punished or allegedly occurred too long ago. Radice was similarly absolved. 

The ruling came just hours after Pope Francis expressed his personal shame at the scale of child abuse carried out by clergy in France’s Catholic Church that saw attacks on 330,000 children. 

The pontiff told of his ‘sadness’ for the victims after a damning report found nuns used crucifixes to rape girls during decades of abuse which was covered up by a ‘veil of silence’. 

Vatican Court President Giuseppe Pignatone (centre) speaks as the Vatican Court cleared two priests charged in connection with alleged sexual abuse in a youth seminary in the Vatican

Pope Francis today expressed his personal shame at the scale of child abuse carried out by clergy in France's Catholic Church that saw attacks on 330,000 children

Pope Francis today expressed his personal shame at the scale of child abuse carried out by clergy in France’s Catholic Church that saw attacks on 330,000 children

In a statement, the tribunal said it had essentially confirmed that there had been a sexual relationship between Martinelli and the alleged victim, L.G., but no proof that L.G., who was just seven months younger, had been forced into it.

The case concerned the closed world of the St. Pius X youth seminary, a palazzo inside the Vatican walls just across the street from where Pope Francis lives. The seminary is used as a residence for boys aged 12 to 18, who serve as altar boys at papal Masses in St. Peter´s Basilica, and are thinking of becoming priests.  

Martinelli, for whom the prosecution had sought a six-year custodial sentence, later went on to become a priest and the prosecution said Radice did not block the ordination even though he knew about the abuse.

Martinelli was charged with allegedly forcing 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’.

The alleged abuse began when LG was 13, and Martinelli continued the abuse of LG for about a year after he turned 18, the prosecution said. 

During his testimony in March this year, LG said Martinelli  first began molesting him a few months after he arrived in the seminary in 2006 as a 13-year-old from a small town in northern Italy. He testified it was his first sexual experience, and that it was a ‘shock’ that he didn’t understand and that he felt ‘paralyzed.’

‘Martinelli would slip into my bed at night,’ he testified. ‘For me it was a very strange thing: I was young and I had never entered into the world of sexuality. At home or in my town, I had never heard of sex. I felt a sense of confusion, I didn’t understand what was happening.’

A view of a hearing of the trial of two Italian priests at the Vatican court in October 2020

A view of a hearing of the trial of two Italian priests at the Vatican court in October 2020

He said he eventually resigned himself to Martinelli, and that he experienced a sense of disassociation from his body when Martinelli, who was seven months older and a more senior seminarian, would touch him. LG said he tried to bang on the walls or slam drawers to make him go away, and that his roommates either slept through the commotion or pretended to.

He testified that he told the rector, Radice, in 2009 that Martinelli was bothering him, but admitted that he didn’t provide details. He said Radice told him he was just jealous, and warned him to stop or he would tell his parents and parish priest and send him home. 

But Tribunal president Giuseppe Pignatone absolved Martinelli on the charges. The court said that Martinelli could not be punished for alleged crimes while he was a minor, which cleared him of charges of abuse before August, 9, 2008. 

In relation to the charges of rape from August 9, 2008, to March 19, 2009, the period in which LG was still a minor, the court said the sexual acts ‘were proven in their materiality,’ but said there was no proof it was coerced. 

The scandal over alleged abuse in the residence erupted in 2017 when former altar boys went public with allegations of misconduct by Martinelli and cover-up by the seminary superiors. Their accusations greatly undermined Francis’ pledge of ‘zero tolerance’ for abuse, since the acts allegedly occurred on Vatican territory.

Vatican Court President Giuseppe Pignatone speaks during a hearing of the trial of two Italian priests in October 2020

Vatican Court President Giuseppe Pignatone speaks during a hearing of the trial of two Italian priests in October 2020 

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.

Jarzembowski has said he saw his roommate repeatedly molested by Martinelli at night when Martinelli would enter their dorm room. He has said the molestation began when both were minors and continued after Martinelli turned 18.

Martinelli had denied he molested L.G., saying the allegations were unfounded, implausible and the fruit of ‘jealousy’ by other seminarians because he was eventually ordained a priest. 

The prosecution had sought a four-year sentence for Radice who was charged with having covered up the alleged abuse, including writing letters to Italian church officials trying to divert investigations. Radice denied knowing anything about abuse or of impeding the probe. 

During the trial, some former seminarians had testified about a homophobic environment in the residence and about younger boys being bullied. Others, however, testified that the boys were happy and that the rector checked the dorms at night and never heard or saw any abuse.

Rita Claudia Baffioni, attorney for Martinelli, said the tribunal rightly saw contradictions in the prime witness´ testimony, a roommate of L.G. who said he saw sexual acts in the dorm room.

Agnese Camilli, representing Radice, said the verdict showed her client was an upstanding priest who always looked out for his students. 

The ruling comes a day after a 2,500-page landmark report was released following more than two years of investigations by an independent commission, in France’s first major reckoning with the devastating phenomenon.

The commission found that an estimated 330,000 children were victims of sex abuse within France’s Catholic Church between 1950 to 2020, with an estimated 216,000 minors abused by priests and other clerics.

‘There is, unfortunately, a considerable number I wish to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma they have suffered,’ Francis said during his weekly audience at the Vatican on Wednesday. 

The pontiff told of his 'sadness' for the victims after a damning report found nuns used crucifixes to rape girls during decades of abuse which was covered up by a 'veil of silence'

The pontiff told of his ‘sadness’ for the victims after a damning report found nuns used crucifixes to rape girls during decades of abuse which was covered up by a ‘veil of silence’ 

‘I was a gift for this nun’: Victims describe horrifying abuse

The damning report into the child abuse carried out by the French Catholic Church found that an estimated 330,000 children were victims. 

The report found that nuns used crucifixes to rape girls or forced boys to have sex with them, reports The Daily Beast.

One girl, named only as ‘Marie’ described being sexually abused by a nun when she was 11-years-old. 

‘I was 11 and looked 9. She would choose me once every two or three times,’ ‘Marie’ recalls. 

‘She would take me to her office, lock the door, and then draw the curtains. After which she would put me on her knees to make me read the gospel according to Saint Paul or another saint, while she squeezed me with one hand to her chest and pulled down my panties with the other hand. 

‘We were of course in pleated skirts and not in pants. It terrified me and paralyzed.’

‘I was truly [a gift] for this nun… because she knew full well that she did not risk anything,’ Marie said. 

She said that when she complained about the abuse to her parents they refused to believe a nun could do such a thing. The abuse carried on for another year.

Another victim is French actor Laurent Martinez who was raped by a priest when he was eight-years-old. 

Martinez, 51, told Sky News the priest was moved to another location after he told his parents of the abuse, but it still haunted him. 

He said: ‘It’s been haunting me all these years.  I’m really not completely freed about it.’  

Martinez said the abuse has impacted his relationships with women and meant he is apprehensive about sexual relationships, which he feels is ‘something forbidden’. He has since written a play about the abuse called Pardon? to help him deal with the abuse.

‘And also my shame, our shame, my shame, for the inability of the Church for too long to put them at the centre of its concerns. 

‘I pray and we all pray together – to you Lord the glory, to us the shame. This is the time for shame.’ 

He called on all bishops and religious superiors to take all actions necessary ‘so similar dramas are not repeated.’  

The findings of the inquiry have prompted outrage as the Catholic Church in France and around the world faces a growing number of abuse claims and prosecutions.

Dealing with the avalanche of revelations about sexual abuse by clergy was one of the biggest challenges that Francis faced when he was elected pope in 2013.

He declared an end to impunity and changed Vatican law to make reporting abuse mandatory, but victims have warned it is not enough.

Francis expressed his sorrow for the victims in a statement Tuesday issued through his spokesman, but his comments on Wednesday went further.

He urged the clergy to keep working to ensure such situations ‘are not repeated’, offering his support to French priests to face up to ‘this trial that is hard but healthy’.

And he invited French Catholics to ‘assume their responsibilities to ensure that the Church is a safe home for all’. 

The report found that the ‘vast majority’ of victims were pre-adolescent boys from a variety of social backgrounds. Their abusers were mainly priests, bishops, deacons and monks.

When claims against lay members of the Church, such as teachers at Catholic schools, are included the number of child abuse victims climbs to 330,000 since 1950, the report found.

Eighty per cent of victims were young boys between the ages of 10 and 13, however many girls also suffered abuse, not only by priests but also by nuns.

Nuns used crucifixes to rape little girls or forced boys to have sex with them, reports the Daily Beast.  

A victim named ‘Marie’ testified that she was abused as an 11-year-old and that when she complained about the abuse to her parents they refused to believe a nun could do such a thing. The abuse continued for another year.

She recalls a nun who would choose a student from her class every day to help her with Mass. 

‘I was 11 and looked 9. She would choose me once every two or three times,’ ‘Marie’ recalls. 

‘She would take me to her office, lock the door, and then draw the curtains. After which she would put me on her knees to make me read the gospel according to Saint Paul or another saint, while she squeezed me with one hand to her chest and pulled down my panties with the other hand. 

‘We were of course in pleated skirts and not in pants. It terrified me and paralyzed.’

‘I was truly [a gift] for this nun… because she knew full well that she did not risk anything,’ Marie said. 

‘Until the early 2000s, the Catholic Church showed a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims,’ commission chief Jean-Marc Sauve told a press conference that unveiled the nearly 2,500-page report.  

They were ‘not believed or not heard’ and sometimes suspected of being ‘in part responsible’ for what happened, he deplored.

Sauve underlined that Catholic authorities had covered up the abuse spanning 70 years in a ‘systematic manner’. 

Victims welcomed the 2,500-page document as long overdue, and the head of the French Catholic bishops’ conference asked for their forgiveness. 

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk