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Cdl. Angelo Comastri | Cdl. Francesco Coccopalmerio
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Two cardinals close to Francis accused of covering up sex abuse of pope’s altar boys

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Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò at the Rome Life Forum on May 18, 2018. Steve Jalsevac / LifeSiteNews

September 19, 2019 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Two high-ranking cardinals close to Pope Francis stopped an investigation of a seminarian accused of abusing multiple adolescents who serve at Pope Francis’ masses, according to extensive reports in the Italian media as well as statements made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that were published by LifeSite earlier this year.

Viganò names the two cardinals as Angelo Comastri, Vicar General of Vatican City, and Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, then the President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. Viganò also states that Pope Francis himself was directly informed of the accusations by the main witness, but for years failed to act.

Following LifeSite’s publication of the accusations, and following an extensive investigation by the Prosecutor of Rome, the Holy See announced this week that its Promoter of Justice is officially requesting a criminal trial of the accused seminarian, now a priest, as well as the rector of the seminary at the time of the alleged abuse. It also states that Pope Francis is permitting the prosecution despite the fact that the one-year statute of limitations has been exceeded.

Cardinals nixed investigation into case, Francis never responded to complaint, Viganò says

“One of the seminarians, Kamil Jarzembowski, a roommate of one of the victims, claims to have witnessed dozens of incidents of sexual aggression,” wrote Archbishop Viganò in July.  “Along with two other seminarians, he denounced the aggressor, first in person to his pre-seminary superiors, then in writing to cardinals, and finally in 2014, again in writing to Pope Francis himself. One of the victims was a boy, allegedly abused for five consecutive years, starting at age 13. The alleged aggressor was a 21-year-old seminarian, Gabriele Martinelli.”

“That pre-seminary [St. Pius X] is under the responsibility of the diocese of Como, and is run by the Don Folci Association,” said Viganò. “A preliminary investigation was entrusted to the judicial vicar of Como, Don Andrea Stabellini, who found elements of evidence that warranted further investigation. I received firsthand information indicating that his superiors prohibited his continuing the investigation.”

“After evidence [of the sexual abuse] was collected by Don Stabellini, the case was immediately covered up by the then-bishop of Como, Diego Coletti, together with Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Vicar General of Pope Francis for Vatican City,” said Viganò. “In addition, Cardinal Coccopalmerio, then President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, who was consulted by Don Stabellini, strongly admonished him to stop the investigation.”

Viganò says that while the accused seminarian was ultimately ordained a priest, his accusers have all been expelled or have left the seminary: “The bishop of Como removed Don Stabellini from the post of Judicial Vicar; the whistleblower, the seminarian Kamil Jarzembowski, was expelled from the seminary; the two fellow seminarians who had joined him in the denunciation left the seminary; and the alleged abuser, Gabriele Martinelli, was ordained [a] priest in July 2017.”

“The signs I see are truly ominous,” wrote Viganò in July. “Not only is Pope Francis doing close to nothing to punish those who have committed abuse, he is doing absolutely nothing to expose and bring to justice those who have, for decades, facilitated and covered up the abusers.”

“The pope and many prelates in the Curia are well aware of these allegations, but in neither case was an open and thorough investigation permitted. An objective observer cannot help but suspect that horrible deeds are being covered up,” stated Viganò.

“All this happened within the Vatican walls, and not a word of it came out during the [sex abuse] summit,” he added.

Coverup accusations confirmed by extensive Italian media coverage

Viganò’s accusations are backed by coverage in the Italian media going back to November of 2017, when the story of the alleged sexual abuse by Martinelli was first revealed to the public by Gianluigi Nuzzi in his book, “Original Sin.” One of the victims was then interviewed by the television program Le Iene, which also revealed the name of the accused seminarian and rumors of a coverup. Archbishop Viganò’s statements offer confirmation of the story as well as the coverup, and bring the accusation to the attention of the global public.

Since the publication of “Original Sin” and the Le Iene report, further reports of multiple sexual abuse victims at the St. Pius X Pre-Seminary have been made by Le Iene and other Italian publications. Most of the purported offenses seem to have taken place before the beginning of the Francis pontificate, but were brought to the attention of Francis himself as well as multiple Vatican dicasteries by the main accuser in 2014, but to no avail.

Following the revelation of the case in “Original Sin,” in late 2017 the Holy See issued a press release claiming that the case had already been thoroughly investigated by 2013, and that in any case, the purported sexual activity was presumed between people of a similar age. Nonetheless, it announced that there would be a new investigation in response to the more recent media revelations.

Moreover, since mid-2018 the case has also been under investigation by the Prosecutor of Rome, who must ultimately present his findings to the pope. Italian media reported in August that he was preparing to submit the evidence he had gathered.

Accused abuser had powerful protectors in the pre-seminary, says witness

The case came to light principally because of the insistent testimony of one witness: a Polish pre-seminary student named Kamil Tadeusz Jarzembowski. According to Jarzembowski, who is himself an admitted homosexual, he witnessed sexual abuse committed by a seminary student who seemed to enjoy privileges and impunity within the pre-seminary due to his relationship with members of the administration. He therefore had no fear of entering the rooms of pre-seminarians in order to sexually molest them.

Jarzembowski says he directly witnessed the seminarian, who he describes as someone who was “about to become a priest,” enter his own room in order to engage in sexual acts with Jarzembowski’s roommate, whose name has been given fictitiously in the press as “Marco” and who reportedly  was thirteen years old when the abuse began. Jarzembowski also states that he saw the alleged perpetrator walking the halls of the dormitories at night, and entering the rooms of other students, presumably also for the purpose of molesting them.

“I saw my roommate being abused by another seminarian who was about to become a priest,” Jarzembowski told Le Iene. “He would enter into his bed and they would begin to engage in sexual acts. The seminarian had a position of power. He enjoyed the great trust of the rector. . . . Even one of our priests noticed.”

“I saw the seminarian walking through the corridors of the dormitories at night and leaving the room of another child, another victim. I turned to the Vatican spiritual adviser after Marco had already left. I knew that the spiritual adviser was obligated to maintain silence. He did an investigation, speaking directly to Marco. He then asked us both to report the case to the superiors [of the pre-seminary].”

“I was afraid and therefore I was dumbfounded while I saw the molestation, also because he was the seminarian who was most trusted by the rector,” Jarzembowski told the TV channel Italia 1 in a subsequent interview.  “I then decided to tell everything to our spiritual adviser, because he is obligated to maintain silence. He decided to do his own investigation and in the end he was removed from his position and transferred 600 kilometers away.”

“Marco,” as the media has called him, has confirmed Jarzembowski’s account to Le Iene of the sexual abuse he allegedly suffered.

“During the night, when there weren’t any of the superiors in the corridors, he would enter into the bedroom, get into my bed, and begin to touch my private parts. The first time I was 13 years old,” said “Marco” to Le Iene.  “That act of aggression was my first introduction to sex, it was something horrible and was wrong, but it became normal. It even happened one time behind the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. The fear petrifies you. In the end you accept everything but you feel guilty.”

Several Italian media outlets, beginning with Il Fatto Quotidiano, agree with Viganò on the identity of the alleged perpetrator as Gabriele Martinelli, a 27-year-old priest who was ordained in 2017 at the age of 25, the minimum age at which a person can receive ordination. Martinelli, whose prosecution is now being sought by the Vatican, has refused attempts to interview him about the allegations. However, assuming Martinelli was the abuser named by Jarzembowski, it is unclear how much older he was than his victims. Some media reports claim the alleged abuser was only one year older than “Marco,” but Jarzembowski says in his interview with Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of “Peccato Originale,” that “Marco” was a year to a year and a half older than Jarzembowski, while the abuser was already “about to become a priest.”

Il Giornale reports in one place that the age difference is only one year, but also gives the date of the beginning of the abuse as 2009 when the abuse victim was 13; if the date is correct, and Martinelli was the abuser, he would have to have been about four years older, not one year older, because Martinelli was 25 in 2007 when he was ordained, and therefore would have been 17 in 2009. This is also in keeping with reports that Jarzembowski is himself approximately four years younger than Martinelli.

It is also difficult to determine with certainty what the ages of the alleged victim and perpetrator would have been, given that the time frames for the abuse accounts has varied from one account to another, making it impossible to determine exact dates with accuracy. In “Peccato Originale,” Jarzembowski says that the victim was 17 and halfway to 18 years of age, but in his interviews with Le Iene, Jarzembowski has spoken of the abuse of “Marco” beginning at 13. If reference is made to the later time frame, and Martinelli is 3-4 years older than “Marco,” Martinelli would have been 21-22 years old at the time, making Archbishop Viganò’s age for the perpetrator roughly correct.

However, even if the perpetrator were only one year older than the victim, the similarity in ages would still constitute acts of sexual abuse, given that his acts with the victim were allegedly coerced, apparently with the connivance of a corrupt pre-seminary administration. Complicating this issue is the fact that both Jarzembowski and “Marco” are reported to have been homosexuals, and Jarzembowski in “Peccato Originale” says that “Marco” was carrying on what appeared to be a consensual sexual affair with another boy, a practice he says was common among the pre-seminarians.

In addition to the allegations made by “Marco” reporters in Italy have reported those of another purported victim who says that he was forced to orally copulate with Martinelli when he was 15 and Martinelli was 20.

Timeline of alleged events:

  • 2009(?): Sexual molestation of “Marco” begins, allegedly by Gabriele Martinelli. If this year is the correct one as reported by Il Giornale, then Martinelli was 17 years old, while “Marco” was reportedly 13. Other accounts say the abuser was only a year older, which would require a date earlier than 2009 or another culprit.
  • 2012-2013: Homosexual pre-seminary student Kamil Jarzembowski first reports case to Cardinal Comastri, who initiates then allegedly “buries” the investigations.
  • 2013: A total of three investigations of Jarzembowski’s accusations were completed by Church authorities, according to a Holy See press release. No prosecutions resulted.
  • 2014: Jarzembowski reports allegations to Pope Francis directly and to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Pope Francis does not respond to Jarzembowski. The CDF states that the case is outside of its competence and refers it to the Congregation for the Clergy, which also gives no response to Jarzembowski.
  • 2017: Gabriele Martinelli is ordained a priest at the age of 25, the minimum age for priestly ordination.
  • November 2017: Story of abuse breaks in “Peccato Originale” and Italia 1’s Le Iene. Holy See says claims original case did not regard sexual abuse, says investigations were done, but new investigation will now be initiated.
  • Mid- 2018: Prosecutor of Rome opens separate investigation. No results have been announced, but multiple Italian media sources reported in August of 2019 that the prosecutor was ready to deliver his report to Pope Francis.
  • July 2019: Accusations repeated by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
  • September 2019: Vatican announces that its Promoter of Justice has requested a criminal trial for Martinelli, as well as the then-seminary rector, Fr. Enrico Radice.

Judicial Vicar confirms that investigation was “buried”

Don Andrea Stabellini, the Judicial Vicar of the Diocesan Tribunal of Como, confirmed to Le Iene (which was then quoted by Il Giornale) that after investigating the charges he wished to “proceed” against those accused of abuse, but that Bishop Diego Coletti and Cardinal Angelo Comastri refused to allow it. Stabellini agreed with the characterization that the case was “buried” by Coletti and Comastri.

Stabellini told Le Iene reporter Gaetano Pecoraro that “he did not have the authority to remove anyone, but that he had the intention of replacing Monsignor Radice [rector of the Pius X Pre-Seminary] and brought his opinion to the attention of the bishop regarding the issue of the supposed sexual molestation,” stated Il Giornale regarding the Le Iene interview.

“It was necessary to proceed with the proper degrees of judgment. I tried to solve the case differently; my judgment was that there was enough substance to proceed,” Stabellini told Le Iene. “I assure you that I am not a dishonest person. I had a reasonable doubt that we should proceed [with the investigation]...Diego Coletti asked that we not proceed. He said that he had made further inquiries and that the case had been resolved.”

Asked, “Who buried the case, Coletti or Comastri?”, Stabellini answered, “Both of them.”

Following the interview with Le Iene, Stabellini was removed from his position as judicial vicar, and reportedly “voluntarily” resigned from his teaching position in the diocesan seminary of Como.

It appears that Archbishop Viganò’s accusation against Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio as having been involved in the coverup has not been previously reported in the Italian media. Coccopalmerio, who is now retired from the presidency of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, also has been accused of other personal acts of corruption reported by LifeSite, following the arrest of the secretary of the council, Monsignor Luigi Capozzi, who worked directly under Coccopalmerio. The Holy See later denied LifeSite’s report in a Twitter post.

Bishop Coletti and Cardinal Comastri deny coverup, say accusations were investigated

When initially confronted with the accusation of a coverup, Bishop Diego Coletti told the Italian newspaper Il Giornale that he had investigated and found “a core of truth” to the accusations of sex abuse, but claimed that it was “enriched by fantasies.”

“It seemed to me that many of the things had a core of truth but were enriched by fantasies,” said Coletti. “I made a couple of specific visits to the seminary regarding this issue, trying to make myself available to those who had something to denounce or complain about or to say. They came to talk to me privately. I wanted to listen to the others and there hasn’t been any further response.”

However, the bishop’s claim is contradicted by the purported victim identified as “Marco,” who said that Bishop Coletti had not officially given a hearing to the accusers from the St. Pius X Pre-Seminary, at least not during the years the victim was present in the Vatican. According to Il Giornale, Marco says that he had to go to Coletti himself to report the alleged molestation. 

In a statement sent to the Italian news agency ANSA, Cardinal Comastri also denied Stabellini’s claim that he had “buried” the case, claiming that he had asked the pre-seminary rector, the superior of the priests of the pre-seminary, and Bishop Coletti, to investigate, and that all three reported back to him that the accusations were untrue or simply “slander.” However, Comastri did not address Stabellini’s claim that his desire to move forward with the investigation had been frustrated.

“Not only did I not cover up anything but I ordered three investigations, recommending the utmost rigor in carrying them out,” Comastri told ANSA. “In the summer of 2013, I received an anonymous letter informing me that bad things were happening in the Institute. Anonymous reports are always to be taken with caution but I called the rector and told him to carry out an investigation with delicacy and rigor to determine if it was true. After a few weeks I received his answer telling me that it was slander.”

“Not content with that, I called the superior of the priests of the pre-seminary, Don Angelo Magistrelli, and asked him to do an investigation himself. He also came back to me saying that it was a matter of slander. At that point, we are already in June 2013 and I call the bishop of Como, on whom the priests of the pre-seminary depend, and I also ask him to carry out a thorough investigation. In January 2014 he responded with a very detailed report of four folders in which in summary he said that there was no fumus (smoke), there was nothing, and at that point he suggested that I close the case.”

In an interview with Il Messaggero in November of 2017, Cardinal Comastri repeated his denial of the claim that he “buried” the case, and opened up his files to show a reporter the complaints of the abuse he had received and records of the investigation. Comastri also made an apparent attempt to discredit the chief accuser Kamil Jarzembowski, implying that he is a homosexual who “ran away from the school for a few days to chase a boy in a northern Italian town,” and claiming that he knew him personally and had never heard any complaints from him.

Prosecutor of Rome collecting testimonies of witnesses in ongoing investigation

According to multiple Italian media sources, the Prosecutor of Rome has been gathering evidence in an investigation of the molestation charges that has been ongoing since mid-2018. The Italian newspaper Panorama reported in December of 2018 that about thirty witnesses had been interviewed by the prosecutor, including “alleged victims and possible perpetrators, altar boy witnesses, confessor priests, and monsignors.”

The newspaper adds that “the dossier also included numerous letters of complaint written by Jarzembowski to cardinals and high prelates (from Angelo Comastri to Giovanni Angelo Becciu), DVDs of episodes of television programs that covered the story (from Quartogrado to Le Iene) and even some recordings with testimonies and accusations.”

However, because the alleged crimes occurred in Vatican City, Pope Francis must be presented the evidence and, as sovereign of the city-state, will decide whether or not to prosecute the accused for the crimes in question. In August of this year, the Italian media reported that the prosecutor was preparing to send his evidence to Pope Francis, who has now given permission for such a prosecution to proceed.

In July, LifeSite requested comment from the Holy See’s press office regarding Archbishop Viganò’s accusations, but has not yet received a response.

Viganò’s recently published testimony also accuses the Vatican of failing to adequately investigate a series of accusations dating back decades of sexual abuse by one of the Holy See’s highest-ranking officials, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State.

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