ROME — The lawyer for a former altar boy accused of sexually abusing a younger boy at the Vatican’s youth seminary asked a Vatican court to absolve her client Friday, saying there was no evidence of misconduct and that “this trial never should have occurred.”
In her closing arguments, attorney Rita Claudia Baffioni said the seven-month age difference between alleged victim and aggressor, who were 13 and 14 at the start of the alleged abuse, made the charges of an abuse of authority against the Rev. Gabriele Martinelli not credible.
The trial has put the spotlight on the St. Pius X seminary, located inside the Vatican gardens, which houses boys aged 12-to-18 who serve as altar boys at papal Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica. The scandal erupted in 2017 when former altar boys went public with allegations of misconduct against Martinelli and a cover-up by the seminary superiors, a Vatican cardinal and the archdiocese of Como, which is responsible for the seminary.
Pope Francis waived the statute of limitations to let the trial go ahead, and recently ordered the seminary to move out of Vatican City while letting its students continue to serve at St. Peter’s.
The tribunal president, Giuseppe Pignatone, said a verdict against Martinelli and the former rector of the seminary, Don Enrico Radice, would be returned Oct. 6.
Martinelli is accused of abusing his authority as a more senior seminarian to force a younger seminarian, identified as L.G., into “carnal acts” of sodomy and masturbation, using violence and threats, from 2007 to 2012. Radice is accused of covering up the crimes after L.G. complained.
Prosecutors have asked for a conviction and six-year prison sentence for Martinelli, and a four-year sentence for Radice, whose lawyer on Thursday asked the court to absolve her client, saying there was no evidence that Radice knew of any abuse.
In her closing arguments, Baffioni noted that Francis’ decree removing the statute of limitations was based on claims of abuse by an adult on a minor. But Baffioni said there was no evidence of abuse while Martinelli was an adult and L.G. was a minor.
“This trial should have never taken place,” she said.
She said the victim’s testimony that he suffered abuse for years wasn’t credible, nor his argument that he didn’t object because Martinelli promised to let him serve at papal Masses. She noted that only one former seminarian testified that he witnessed Martinelli’s behavior, but without providing any evidence.
“We’re talking about the first 10 years of the 2000s, with kids who have cellphones, make videos, who aren’t so fragile that in order to serve a Mass they accept to be abused three times a week for six years,” she said. “Objectively, it’s difficult to believe.”