ROME, Italy (AFP) — Two priests were acquitted on Wednesday of charges linked with sex abuse at a school for altar boys in the Vatican City, in the first criminal trial of its kind.
Gabriele Martinelli, a former pupil at the St Pius X pre-seminary and now a priest, was accused of assaulting a fellow altar boy — years before he joined the clergy.
Martinelli, now 29, was tried alongside priest Enrico Radice, the 71-year-old former rector of the pre-seminary, who was accused of shielding his protege from punishment.
The trial, which started 12 months ago, was the first to be held before a Vatican criminal court over allegations of sex abuse or cover-ups within Vatican territory.
In a statement, judges said Martinelli and his accuser did engage in various sexual acts, but there was “lack of evidence” over their supposed non-consensual nature.
The sexual relationship between the pair started in 2006, when Martinelli was 14 and his younger peer 13, and continued until 2012.
Prosecutors wanted Martinelli jailed for six years and Radice for four years. But judges said their case rested on contradictory and incoherent statements from the alleged victim.
They noted that people who were supposed to be in the same room where the alleged abuses happened “repeatedly said that they never saw or heard anything”.
There was also an issue with the statute of limitations, with some of the alleged crimes having expired.
However, the judges had some harsh words for Radice and his superior, a bishop, saying they looked into the abuse claims in an “absolutely superficial” manner.
Vatican prosecutors took up the case after public revelations in 2017 by Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian investigative journalist, based on accounts by another former altar boy.
The pre-seminary, which hosts boys interested in the priesthood and who help serve mass in St Peter’s Basilica, used to occupy a building next to Pope Francis’ residence.
Earlier this year, the Holy See said the institute would be relocated away from Vatican grounds, to be closer a private school in central Rome where the boys take their classes.
© Agence France-Presse