Three priests gave testimony on Wednesday in an abuse and coverup trial underway in the Vatican, all of whom denied ever witnessing or hearing of suspected abuse.
28-year-old Fr. Gabriele Martinelli of the Diocese of Como is accused of abusing another boy when they were both pupils at the minor seminary. The 71-year-old former rector of the seminary, Fr. Enrico Radice, is accused of covering up the abuse.
The priests who testified on Wednesday are Frs. Angelo Magistrelli, Enzo Pacelli, and Luigi Portarulo. They all appeared to cast doubt on the testimony of a key witness: former Saint Pius X seminarian Kamil Jarzembowski, whose claims regarding the climate and culture of the institution have contributed to public scrutiny and been a focal point of the criminal proceedings.
Fr. Magistrelli is currently the rector of the St. Pius X minor seminary and head of the Don Folci association of the Diocese of Como, which operates the minor seminary in the Vatican. “No one,” Magistrelli told the court, “no one – neither bishops, nor priests, pre-seminarians, nor the cleaning ladies ever mentioned sexual problems,” in St. Pius X.
Fr. Magistrelli testified that Fr. Radice informed him, in 2013, of an anonymous letter addressed to Pope Francis, which supposedly accused Radice of pedophilia and Martinelli of homosexual acts against other peers.
According to Magistrelli, Cardinal Angelo Comastri – Pope Francis’s Vicar for Vatican City at the time – had told Radice of the letter.
The then-Bishop of Como, Diego Coletti – who had also received the letter – eventually tasked Fr. Magistrelli with drafting a report on it. That was in July of 2013.
It appeared that these letters were possibly the result of friction inside the preseminary arising from plans to expand St. Pius X to university students. Two priests from L’Aquila were champions of those designs, according to Fr. Magistrelli.
Cardinal Comastri expressed his opposition, Fr. Magistrelli recalled: “[Cardinal] Comastri said it was better not to proceed, as we are dealing with priests on a collision course with their bishop, who use you to leave the diocese and enter the Vatican,” he recalled Cardinal Comastri saying.
“The Cardinal does not want to do this,” Fr. Magistrelli recalled telling the Council of the Don Folci association regarding the expansion.
That could be a significant piece of evidence.
In February, the current Bishop of Como, Oscar Cantoni, testified to the effect that certain ambiguities of jurisdiction had made it difficult for him to understand who was in charge of St. Pius X: Como through Don Folci, or the Vatican? Eventually, he sought clarification from the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, who told him: “I have been able to clarify that ultimate responsibility belongs to the Diocese of Como.”
The direct involvement of a Vatican official in decisions regarding the life of the St. Pius X minor seminary could complicate that narrative, quite apart from the soap-operatics of intramural intrigue, factionalism, and power struggles, and distinct from the questions of the accused parties’ guilt or innocence.
Fr. Pacelli is the former head of the Sant’Apollinare institute where Jarzembowski also studied. “Kamil has psychopathic tendencies,” Pacelli had told Vatican prosecutors in 2018, “a fragility of character.” Also in 2018, Pacelli described Jarzembowski as “unsuitable to continue the path of the Preseminary.”
When a judge asked him on Wednesday whether he stood by that description, Fr. Pacelli said: “Yes, he was a bit psychopathic in the sense that he was closed, always on him, not a boy with a sunny disposition. [It. Non era un ragazzo solare.]”
Fr. Portarulo, an alumnus of St. Pius X and former vice-rector of the same, spoke of the accused, Fr. Martinelli, almost entirely in connection with Fr. Francesco Vicini, a former schoolmate of the accused and currently the vice-rector of St. Pius X. “They had the same tasks and prerogatives,” Portarulo said, “no one predominated over the other.”
Several witnesses have testified to Fr. Martinelli’s domineering personality, as well as the special favor the then-rector, Fr. Radice, showed him.
Fr. Portarulo also testified that Fr. Radice scheduled altar boys’ shifts for ceremonies in St. Peter’s Basilica, where pupils of St. Pius X serve regularly. Other witnesses have testified to Fr. Martinelli’s control over the service roster, and Fr. Radice’s acquiescence in Martinelli’s control of it. Those claims tended to support the picture of a favored relationship between Radice and Martinelli, and as further evidence of Martinelli’s haughty disposition and commanding character.
Fr. Portarulo told the court the shifts “were always the rector’s.”
“Gabriele or Francesco (Vicini) or I helped him as assistants to write them because Fr. Radice did not know how to use the computer,” Fr. Portarulo said. He also testified that Fr. Radice “was always present,” i.e. available to the boys and ready to lend an ear.
“When a boy had a problem he was always available to listen,” Fr. Portarulo testified, “with the door of his study always open.” Asked if he ever had news or received confidences regarding the alleged abuses, Portarulo replied: “Absolutely not. There was nothing abnormal.”
The next court session in the trial is scheduled 27 April at 10:30am Rome Time. Witnesses slated to give evidence include the current vice-rector Fr. Francesco Vicini – a fellow student of Fr. Martinelli and accuser L.G., who was ordained a priest together with the accused – and the head of services in St. Peter’s Basilica. Twelve other witnesses are scheduled for subsequent hearings.