An Italian priest accused of sexually assaulting a fellow teenager while both served as papal altar boys appeared in a Vatican court Wednesday to profess his innocence.
“These are unfounded accusations,” said Gabriele Martinelli, who is accused of assaulting another boy over a five-year period starting from 2007, when they were aged 14 and 13.
They were both enrolled at the St Pius X pre-seminary, an institution located on Vatican grounds that hosts boys interested in the priesthood.
Under Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI, the Vatican has taken an increasingly harder line against clerical sex abuse and cover ups, after repeated worldwide scandals.
In Martinelli’s case, it is the first time that the Vatican is criminally prosecuting acts believed to have happened within its territory.
Martinelli, who was ordained in 2017, characterised the accusations as part of a smear campaign against him and the pre-seminary, and as an attempt to block his path towards priesthood.
He denied that sexual abuse took place in the dormitory of the pre-seminary and even — as claimed by the alleged victim in several letters — in a small toilet inside St Peter’s Basilica.
Several phone and social media messages were read out during the interrogation, in which the alleged victim, known only as L.G., accused Martinelli of “sexual perversion” and of “only being interested in people’s penises”.
The former rector of the pre-seminary, Father Enrico Radice, is a co-defendant in the trial for allegedly hushing up the affair and shielding Martinelli from justice.
Radice and L.G. were not in court on Wednesday.
The boarders at St Pius X are mainly children and adolescents who live there while they attend a private school in Rome, and participate as altar boys in the masses celebrated in St Peter’s Basilica.