Two priests should be tried in altar boys abuse case: Vatican

Pope Francis has apologised for predatory priests but cover-ups in the Vatican have severely damaged trust (AFP Photo/Alberto PIZZOLI) (AFP/File)

Vatican City (AFP) - An Italian priest accused of sexually abusing altar boys in a seminary and another priest who allegedly facilitated that abuse have been referred to Italian justice, the Vatican said Tuesday.

A statement said the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice has recommended that Father Gabriele Martinelli stand trial over charges of sexual abuse, and that Father Enrico Radice also be tried over charges of covering it up.

The alleged abuse took place at the pre-seminary of St Pius X, an institution located on Vatican grounds that trains altar boys and is very close to Pope Francis's residence.

"The investigation was launched in 2017 following press reports," the Vatican said.

Martinelli was a seminarian and aged 21 when the alleged abuse took place and was in charge of training the boys.

A Polish roommate of one of the victims said he had witnessed repeated sexual assaults, according to Italian media.

He along with two other seminarians denounced Martinelli to superiors and also in a letter written to cardinals.

The alleged abuse was the subject of 2017 book called "Original Sin" by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.

Nuzzi said the young seminarian, who lived there between the ages of 13 and 18, was sent back in 2014 after sounding the alarm on the alleged abuse.

The seminarian claimed that Martinelli came to his room to have sexual relations with his roommate -- who was then aged 17.

He claimed he had witnessed such acts up to 140 times and that Martinelli used "power and intimidation" to impose his will on young seminarians.

The Polish man, who says he is gay, accused the priests of double standards, saying: "During the day, they are homophobes and at night they unwind in gay discos."

Pope Francis has apologised for predatory priests but cover-ups in the Vatican have severely damaged trust in the centuries-old institution, and there is still much to be done to protect minors from clerical paedophiles.

In May, the pontiff passed a landmark new measure to oblige those who know about sex abuse in the Catholic Church to report it to their superiors, in a move which could bring countless new cases to light.