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Priests cleared in Vatican sex abuse case

It was the first criminal trial alleging sexual abuse within Vatican walls. 
Image: Pope Francis holds weekly general audience
Pope Francis at his weekly general audience in the Vatican, on Wednesday. Yara Nardi / Reuters

ROME — An Italian priest was cleared Wednesday of sexually molesting a fellow altar boy when they both were teenagers at the Vatican’s youth seminary, in the first criminal trial alleging sexual abuse within Vatican walls. 

The Vatican tribunal said in a statement that sexual relations of "various nature and intensity" had taken place between the defendant, the Rev. Gabriele Martinelli, and his accuser, identified only as L.G., for a period of five years. But it said there was insufficient proof L.G. was forced into the relations.

Significant contradictions and "illogical declarations" by L.G. had made it impossible to establish whether he was forced into the acts, the statement said, adding that many people who were present in the room where the sexual acts were meant to have taken place repeatedly say they did not hear or see anything.

Martinelli, now 29, was accused of forcing L.G. into having sex, mostly when they were both minors. It was alleged that he abused his authority as a more senior seminarian to force L.G. into “carnal acts” of sodomy and masturbation, using violence and threats, between 2006—2012. 

Kamil Jarzembowski, L.G.'s onetime roommate, went public in 2017. Gregorio Borgia / AP

The former rector of the seminary, the Rev. Enrico Radice, was also charged with helping Martinelli to avoid investigators by discrediting L.G.’s allegations as baseless. He was also cleared of all charges on Wednesday.

Martinelli and Radice consistently denied wrongdoing and accused L.G. of mounting a personal vendetta against them. 

The scandal erupted in 2017 when former altar boys went public with allegations of misconduct by Martinelli and a cover-up by the superiors at the St. Pius X seminary, which sits inside a palazzo in the Vatican gardens and houses boys aged 12—18 who serve as altar boys at papal Masses.

In previous hearings, former seminarians described a toxic, homophobic atmosphere in the closed world of the seminary, where some boys were bullied and the priest superiors did little to protect them.

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After L.G. and his onetime roommate, Kamil Jarzembowski, went public in 2017, Pope Francis waived the statute of limitations, allowing a criminal investigation to proceed.

The scandal was particularly grave because the alleged abuse occurred within the Vatican City itself.

In March, L.G. testified that 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. Martinelli was seven months older and a more senior seminarian. 

Reuters contributed.