An Italian priest accused of sexually assaulting a teenager was told by a bishop to compensate his alleged victim with 20,000 euros, a Vatican court heard Thursday.
Father Gabriele Martinelli served as a papal altar boy in his teenage years while attending the St Pius X pre-seminary, which hosts boys interested in the priesthood.
He is accused of assaulting a younger boy enrolled at the same institution, which is located within the walls of the Vatican.
Oscar Cantoni, a bishop who looked into the allegations, told the court he had earlier proposed that Martinelli pay 20,000 euros ($24,500) to his victim, plus 5,000 euros to church officials to cover the cost of their investigation.
The decision to impose a financial penalty on Martinelli led to his criminal prosecution, explained Cantoni, who is bishop of the northern Italian city of Como.
Martinelli is now on trial alongside the former rector of the pre-seminary — the first time the Vatican has criminally prosecuted alleged acts of clerical sex abuse or their cover-up on its territory.
The order to pay the alleged victim 20,000 euros has not been enforced, pending the outcome of the trial.
Cantoni also testified that he received several reports about Martinelli’s “sexually inappropriate conduct” during the 2006-2012 period.
But since Martinelli had moved to Como — Cantoni’s diocese — to become a priest in 2017, he had stopped misbehaving, the bishop said.
“Since he has been in Como, first as a deacon and then as a priest, there have been no reports. It was a temporary homosexual tendency linked to puberty,” Cantoni said.
Cantoni’s diocese is responsible for the pre-seminary, even though it sits on Vatican grounds, just across the street from Pope Francis’ residence.
The abuses are believed to have taken place over a five-year period starting from 2007 when Martinelli was 14 and his alleged victim one year younger. While Martinelli was ordained, the other boy gave up on the priesthood.
Two weeks ago, the Vatican court was told the alleged victim wrote letters accusing Martinelli of assaulting him on multiple occasions, including in a toilet cubicle inside St Peter’s Basilica.
Martinelli has denied any wrongdoing.
Three former altar boys who testified on Wednesday said they had only second-hand accounts of the alleged abuses, but two of them said Martinelli would routinely grope other boys.
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.
Under 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.