— Rome — Witnesses contradicted themselves and each other on Wednesday, when they gave evidence in a trial dealing with charges of abuse and coverup at the Saint Pius X minor seminary — a college for boys aged 12 to 18 years, who are considering the priesthood and serve at papal events in St. Peter’s Basilica — in the Vatican.
Two priests are in the dock at Vatican City’s criminal court: Fr. Gabriele Martinelli, 28, and Fr. Enrico Radice, 71. Martinelli, a former pupil at Saint Pius X ordained in 2017, is accused of abusing a junior pupil — L.G. — when Martinelli was a senior boy at the school. Radice, former rector of the institution, is accused of covering up and enabling Martinelli’s abusive behavior.
Earlier testimony had alleged that some of the abuse took place in the washing facilities inside St. Peter’s, which are reserved to authorized personnel.
Felice Gallo, who has care of the Vatican basilica’s physical plant, testified on Wednesday that the restroom behind the altar of the chair – one of the facilities in question – was “used above all by the sanpietrini,” i.e. the workmen of the basilica. “The altar boys of the pre-seminary,” on the other hand, used a facility on the third floor. “They donned their liturgical vestments before the Mass there, [and] there was always a sanpietrino about,” he said.
One witness – former St. Pius X pupil Thomas Compagnoni – testified that the alleged victim of Martinelli’s predations, L.G. had been the one to encourage him to join the college. Compagnoni said he received the encouragement from L.G. after L.G. had left the school.
“I entered the [St. Pius X] preseminary at the suggestion of L.G. who had a good experience there,” Compagnoni told the court. “[L.G.] strongly advised me to go down to Rome,” Compagnoni said. “He thrilled me so much that I immediately went.”
Another witness who gave testimony on Wednesday, Andrea Garzola, claimed that Martinelli touched his genitals when dorm-room horseplay degenerated into fisticuffs, but told the court he said he did not believe the act was a “sexual advance.”
Garzola’s testimony was highly anticipated, in part because he had told investigators in pre-trial deposition that Kamil Jarzembowski – the former pupil who is a principal whistle-blower and a key figure in the trial — that Martinelli had been abusing the victim – identified as L.G. – but denied the claim on Wednesday. “I do not recognize those words,” he said.
In 2019, Garzola told Italy’s Carabinieri that Jarzembowski visited him in Padua and told him of his “shock” at the sight of Martinelli committing acts of abuse against the victim during their time in seminary.
“Kamil ran away from the seminary to come to my house in Padua,” Garzola testified on Wednesday, but said he “refused to speak with him” on that occasion and that his parents immediately called Jarzembowski’s. Pressed by the court on the point, Garzola replied: “In 2019 I said those words because that’s how I remembered it, now I don’t remember anymore.”
After a recess called so the witness could gather his thoughts, Garzola insisted that he could not recall. “I don’t remember what Kamil should have said to me that day,” Garzola said, “perhaps I wanted to remove many things [from memory].”
“I remember that I told the truth to the Carabinieri in 2019,” Gazola also said, “but I don’t recall what I said.”
Another witness – identified only by his initials, M.B., because he will soon be ordained a priest – said he was L.G.’s friend, and heard from L.G. that Martinelli abused him at night.
“I had a friendship with L.G.,” the witness said. “It seems hard for me to think that he lied to me.” M.B. also told the court that L.G. did not seem to fear Martinelli.
M.B, however, testified that L.G. told him he had suffered harassment from Martinelli throughout his time at Saint Pius X – that Martinelli would visit him at night – and that L.G. confided this to him “with a feeling of unpleasantness and discomfort.” M.B. shared a room with the alleged victim for at least a year, but told the court he’d never observed Martinelli come in at night to harass L.G. “I’m a heavy sleeper,” M.B. said.
The current vice-rector of the seminary, Fr. Francesco Vicini, also testified Wednesday.
A contemporary of Martinelli, Fr. Vicini attended St. Pius X and major seminary with Martinelli. They were ordained together to both the diaconate and the priesthood. He said he had never heard of episodes of abuse until anonymous letters arrived in 2013.
Fr. Vicini shared a room with Martinelli and with L.G. He said never heard or saw abuse.
“The accusations are perhaps the result of the desire to take revenge for the alleged wrongs suffered,” Fr. Vicini told the court, noting that two of the accusers – Jarzembowski and another pupil, Alessandro Flamini – had both “been removed from the preseminary.” Fr. Vicini also said that L.G. had “a great jealousy” of the trust the rector – also a defendant in the trial – placed in Martinelli.
Fr. Vicini also said that Martinelli and L.G. frequently argued. “They were always arguing about everything,” he said. “There was competition between the two. L.G. complained, he was not silent, he was the last on which Martinelli could retaliate.”
In pre-trial deposition, Fr. Vicini said he had noted a change in L.G.’s demeanor, which became less calm and collected during L.G.’s time at the school.
He also told investigators he did not believe the allegations. “Martinelli has a dominant character, but I respect him,” Fr. Vicini said in 2018. “I take it for granted that Martinelli did nothing.”
Witnesses in a February hearing testified to a culture of bullying, ridicule, and abuse of power at the school. They said that staff and leadership at the school ignored or dismissed rumors of sexual abuse.