The two priests accused in the first sexual abuse trial in Vatican history


Vatican court

Photo: Reuters / BBC News Brazil

Two Catholic priests went on trial in the Vatican, in what is the first lawsuit for an alleged case of sexual abuse in the city-state.

Gabriele Martinelli, 28, is accused of raping an altar boy between 2007 and 2012.

Enrico Radice, 72, is accused of covering up the alleged crime while he was rector of the school of theology where sexual abuse is said to have occurred.

Neither of them took a stand on the charges.

Although many priests have faced abuse allegations around the world, the Vatican has so far never held a judgment on suspected sexual abuse within its own walls.

The trial, which began with a brief hearing on Wednesday (10/14), has high symbolic value, as the Vatican is home to the spiritual leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, such as Pope Francis.

What are the charges?

On Wednesday, during an eight-minute hearing in a small court, the charges against the two men were read aloud.

Martinelli is accused of sexually abusing a boy at the Pio 10 Seminary in the Vatican, which houses altar boys who celebrate masses in St. Peter’s Basilica.

According to the prosecution, he forcibly subjected a boy, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, to “carnal acts” for several years. The abuse would have started when the child was 13 years old.

The accused himself also attended seminary and later became a priest. According to prosecutors, Radice did not prevent his ordination, even though he knew of the charges against him.

For this reason, Radice officially responds to the charge of covering up the crime and trying to hinder official investigations.

Neither spoke during the hearing, and the trial is due to resume in two weeks.

Accusations of abuse and cover-up have been known within the church since 2012, but have only been made public thanks to journalists who spoke with a colleague of the victim in 2017.

Pope Francis called for “definitive action” against crimes within the church when he was elected in 2013, but critics say he has not done enough to hold bishops suspected of covering up sexual abuse accountable.

Addressing sexual abuse cases within the church is one of Pope Francis' main challenges

Responding to sexual abuse cases within the church is one of Pope Francis’ main challenges

Foto: Getty Images / BBC News Brasil

In August 2018, the religious leader wrote to all Catholics condemning clerical sexual abuse and demanding an end to the cover-up.

And last year, he made it mandatory for Roman Catholic clergy to report cases of clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups to the Church.

According to Mark Lowen, BBC reporter in Rome, the seminar is just a few meters from where Pope Francis lives and trains altar boys for papal masses.

“Denunciations of an endemic sexual abuse have hit the Catholic Church for decades.

Despite measures against sexual abuse by priests, Pope Francis has received criticism that he is too slow to recognize the scale of the problem. The emergence of new accusations makes clear the mountain of potential cases that the Church still has to face “, summarizes the journalist.

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