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Trial Of A Priest Charged With Sexually Abusing An Altar Boy To Resume In Vatican

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

An unprecedented trial resumes tomorrow at the Vatican. A young priest is charged with sexually abusing an altar boy inside Vatican City walls. An older priest is charged with covering it up. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the case grew out of a whistleblower complaint. And a warning - this story contains descriptions of the charges.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The first hearing lasted eight minutes, enough for the court to hear graphic descriptions of the charges. The victim, identified by his initials, LG, was forced to undergo carnal acts, acts of sodomy and masturbation at different times and in different places inside Vatican City. The abuse took place from 2007, when the victim was 13, to 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELL RINGING)

POGGIOLI: The crime scene was the closed world of the St. Pius X Youth Seminary. Its residents, some as young as 11, are known as the pope's altar boys. They serve mass in St. Peter's Basilica and are thinking of becoming priests. One person closely following the trial from the U.S. is Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks clerical abuse cases around the world.

ANNE BARRETT DOYLE: The elephant in the courtroom is why this took so long. The trial should have happened years ago, when the whistleblower first went to church authorities.

POGGIOLI: The whistleblower was the victim's roommate, Kamil Jarzembowski. In 2012, he reported the abuse to church authorities. He never got a reply and was kicked out of the seminary, so he went public. This is what he told an Italian TV program in 2017.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAMIL JARZEMBOWSKI: (Through interpreter) I saw my roommate being abused by another seminarian.

POGGIOLI: Jarzembowski was 15 at the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JARZEMBOWSKI: (Through interpreter) I was scared. I didn't understand. It was the first time I saw two people having sex.

POGGIOLI: Over the academic year, the whistleblower said he witnessed his roommate being raped at least a hundred times. The alleged abuser is 28-year-old Gabriele Martinelli, who has since become a priest. The other defendant is 72-year-old Father Enrico Radice, the seminary's former rector, accused of aiding and abetting the abuse. Neither defendant has yet entered a plea. As Barrett Doyle points out, the Vatican trial is being run by the Catholic Church not a secular court.

BARRETT DOYLE: So the first question will be, can the judge be impartial?

POGGIOLI: The presiding judge is a prominent Italian magistrate, formerly one of Italy's leading anti-mafia prosecutors. The pope appointed him last year as part of his reforms of Vatican bureaucracy. The trial will follow Vatican City legislation. Francesco Zanardi, head of a support group for victims of sex abuse, worries the outcome will be influenced by traditional church doctrine.

FRANCESCO ZANARDI: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: "As long as the Vatican views pedophilia as a crime against God, not against the individual," says Zanardi, "no verdict can provide justice for the victim." If the court finds the two defendants guilty, Barrett Doyle says the Vatican must also hold their superiors to account.

BARRETT DOYLE: It is really crucial that the church itself investigate the whole network of people who failed this victim and who intimidated the whistleblower.

POGGIOLI: The defendants will take the stand when the trial resumes tomorrow.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIKLAS PASCHBURG'S "SPARK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.