Vatican court hears graphic description of sexual abuse

A general view of a Vatican court during a hearing of the trial of two Italian priests, one charged with raping an altar boy in a youth seminary and the other of abetting and cover up, in this still image taken from video, at the Vatican, October 14, 2020. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Vatican court heard graphic descriptions of sexual abuse on Wednesday as two priests went on trial, one charged with repeatedly raping an altar boy in a youth seminary and the other of covering up the attacks.

The first hearing lasted only eight minutes as charges were read to Father Gabriele Martinelli, 28, who was a minor for most of the time of the alleged abuse, and Father Enrico Radice, 72, who was rector.

Neither of the two defendants has responded publicly to the accusations and the defence has not yet entered a formal plea.

The abuse took place between 2007 and 2012 in the Pius X Pre-Seminary, which houses altar boys who serve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, sometimes for the pope, and are thinking of becoming priests.

Martinelli later went on to become a priest and the prosecution says Radice did not block the ordination even though he knew about the abuse.

A clerk read out charges including how Martinelli allegedly forced a boy known by his initials LG "to undergo carnal acts, acts of sodomy, masturbation on himself and on the boy, at different times and in different places inside Vatican City".

The trial in the Vatican's tiny courtroom is the first concerning abuse committed inside the city state's walls.

The alleged abuse began when LG was 13, and Martinelli continued the abuse of LG for about a year after he turned 18, the prosecution says.

The court charged Radice with cover-up, including writing letters to Italian church officials trying to divert investigations. Radice had given Martinelli supervisory responsibilities over the other altar boys, the court was told.

The case exploded in 2017 when Italian journalists reported that a whistleblower who was a roommate of LG reported the abuse but was later expelled from the pre-seminary. A Vatican inquiry began that year and indictments were issued in 2019.

Court President Giuseppe Pignatone, a former Italian anti-mafia magistrate, gave the defence until Friday to present more documentation. The trial resumes on Oct. 27.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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