Vatican appeals court finds priest guilty of 'corrupting a minor'

Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican City criminal court, reads the verdict at the end of the first trial of Father Gabriele Martinelli on charges of sexually abusing a younger student at the St. Pius X Pre-Seminary in the Vatican in this file photo from Oct. 6, 2021. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) ─ Father Gabriele Martinelli, acquitted by the Vatican City criminal court in 2021 of sexually abusing a fellow seminarian, was found guilty on appeal of "corrupting a minor" and sentenced to two years and six months in prison.

Under Vatican law, like Italian law, both the prosecution and the defense can appeal verdicts. And a second appeal is still possible, so Father Martinelli was not taken into custody.

Vatican News reported Jan. 23 that the appeals court, led by Archbishop Alejandro Arellano Cedillo, upheld the earlier court verdict that Father Martinelli could not be punished for acts that occurred prior to 2008 when he turned 16 and that there was not sufficient evidence to convict him of the charges of "aggravated rape and aggravated lewd acts" even after he turned 18.

Father Martinelli, now 31, was accused of sexually abusing another seminarian at the St. Pius X Pre-Seminary from 2007 to 2012. The seminary, owned by the Diocese of Como, Italy, and operated by the Opera Don Folci religious institute, was located inside the Vatican walls until Pope Francis ordered it to move out while the initial trial was still underway.

Roberto Zannotti, the Vatican prosecutor in the case, filed the appeal.

During the initial trial, a former student of the minor seminary -- identified as L.G. -- said he was sexually abused over a six-year period despite having told the rector that an older student was "bothering" him.

After handing down the initial verdict in October 2021, the Vatican City court issued a statement to the press saying the trial had established "that sexual relations of various kinds and intensities" occurred between the defendant and the accuser "and that they actually lasted for the whole of the above-mentioned five-year period" when the young men were at the minor seminary. However, the court said, "there is no proof that the victim was forced into such relations by the defendant with the contested violence or threats."

In a statement published late Jan. 24, the Diocese of Como said that restrictions on Father Martinelli's ministry, including barring him from "pastoral activities involving minors and vulnerable adults," were in place even after he was acquitted by the Vatican court in 2021 and continue today.

"The diocese renews its thanks to all the people who, through their testimony and the consignment of documents, have contributed to the search for the truth," the statement said. While waiting for the conclusion of the whole process, including a possible criminal case being investigated by Italian officials, the diocese said it "reiterates its solidarity and closeness with all the people and ecclesial communities that have been heavily marked by this long and complex human and judicial affair."


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