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Vatican City, Nov 20, 2020 / 05:30 am (CNA).- The Vatican court heard Thursday the questioning of one of the defendants in an ongoing trial of two Italian priests for abuse and cover-up allegedly committed in Vatican City from 2007 to 2012.

Fr. Enrico Radice, 72, has been charged with impeding investigations into an abuse allegation against Fr. Gabriele Martinelli, 28.

The abuse is alleged to have taken place at the St. Pius X pre-seminary located in the Vatican. The abuse allegations were first made public by the media in 2017.

Radice stated at the Nov. 19 hearing that he was never told about abuse by Martinelli by anyone, accusing the alleged victim and another alleged witness of making up the story for “economic interests.”

The second defendant, Martinelli, was not present at the hearing because he works at a residential health clinic in Lombardy in northern Italy which is in lockdown because of the coronavirus.

The Nov. 19 hearing was the third in the ongoing Vatican trial. Martinelli, who has been charged with using violence and his authority to commit sexual abuse, will be questioned at the next hearing, scheduled to take place on Feb. 4, 2021.

At the around two-hour long hearing, Radice was questioned about his knowledge of allegations of abuse against Martinelli, as well as about the alleged abuser and his alleged victim.

The priest described the boys at the pre-seminary as “serene and calm.” He said the alleged victim, L.G., had a “lively intelligence and was very dedicated to studies,” but over time had become “pedantic, presumptuous.” He said that L.G. had a “predilection” for the Old Rite of the Mass, arguing that this is why he “teamed up” with another student, Kamil Jarzembowski.

Jarzembowski is an alleged witness to the crime and a former roommate of the alleged victim. He has said in the past that he reported abuse by Martinelli in 2014. Jarzembowski, who is from Poland, was later dismissed from the pre-seminary.  

At the Nov. 19 hearing, Radice described Jarzembowski as “withdrawn, estranged.” Radice said that the defendant, Martinelli, was “sunny, joyful, on good terms with everyone.” 

Radice said he never saw or heard of abuse in the pre-seminary, that the walls were thin so he would have heard something, and that he checked to make sure the boys were in their rooms at night. 

“No one has ever told me about abuse, not the students, not the teachers, not the parents,” the priest said.

Radice claimed that the testimony of alleged witness Jarzembowski was motivated by revenge for having been kicked out of the pre-seminary for “insubordination and because he did not take part in community life.”

The St. Pius X pre-seminary is a residence for about a dozen boys, aged 12 to 18, who serve at papal Masses and other liturgies in St. Peter’s Basilica and are considering the priesthood.

Located on Vatican City territory, the pre-seminary is run by a Como-based religious group, the Opera Don Folci.

The defendant Martinelli was an alumnus of the youth seminary and would return as a visitor to tutor and coordinate the students’ activities. He is accused of abusing his authority at the seminary and taking advantage of relationships of trust, as well as using violence and threats, in order to force his alleged victim “to undergo carnal acts, sodomy, masturbation on himself and on the boy.”  

The alleged victim, L.G., was born in 1993 and was 13 at the time the alleged abuse began, turning 18 about a year before it ended.

Martinelli, who is a year older than L.G., was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Como in 2017.

Radice was the youth seminary’s rector for 12 years. He is accused, as rector, of having helped Martinelli “evade investigations, after crimes of sexual assault and lechery.”

Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican tribunal, asked Radice why he said that Jarzembowski and L.G. were motivated by “economic interests” if Radice had been informed of letters with allegations against Martinelli by Cardinal Angelo Comastri and Bishop Diego Attilio Coletti of Como in 2013, but the allegations were made public only in 2017. Radice said it was his “intuition.”

The priest again praised Martinelli. He “was a leader, he had the makings of a leader, I saw him grow, he did every duty well,” Radice said. He added that Martinelli was “trusted,” but he did not have power or responsibility because ultimately decisions were up to Radice as rector.

During the interrogation of the former rector, it was revealed that the alleged victim L.G. testified that he spoke to Radice about the abuse in 2009 or 2010, and that Radice “responded aggressively” and L.G. “was marginalized.”

L.G. stated in his affidavit that he “continued to be abused” and he was “not the only one to be abused and to speak with Radice.”

Radice insisted again that L.G. “never” spoke with him. Later, he said that L.G. spoke to him about “annoyances” with Martinelli, but never about sexual abuse.

“There were quarrels and jokes as in all communities of children,” the priest stated.

Radice was also questioned about a 2013 letter from a now deceased priest and spiritual assistant at the pre-seminary, who said that Martinelli should not be ordained a priest for “very serious and truly grave reasons.”

The defendant said he “didn’t know anything about it” and the other priest “should have informed me.”

Prosecutors had put forward as evidence against Radice a letter that he had supposedly created with the bishop of Como’s letterhead and in the name of the bishop, stating that Martinelli, then a transitional deacon, could be transferred to the Diocese of Como.

Radice said that at the time he was an assistant to Bishop Coletti, that he composed the letter on behalf of the bishop and the bishop signed it, but later the bishop revoked it. Radice’s lawyers gave a copy of the letter to the president of the tribunal.

At the hearing, the former rector said that the priests running the youth seminary were not always in agreement, but they did not have large conflicts. 

It was noted by the prosecution that four priests had written to Bishop Coletti and to Cardinal Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica and vicar general for Vatican City State, to complain about a difficult climate at the youth seminary.

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