ROME – Vatican magistrates have decided that one priest accused of sexually abusing underage altar boys who served in St. Peter’s Basilica, and another accused of facilitating that abuse, will be put on trial, according to a statement released Tuesday.

The statement said that 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 up that abuse.

“Investigations began in 2017 following news reports in the press,” the statement said, released late Tuesday Rome time by the Vatican Press Office.

The Vatican said Pope Francis gave personal permission to proceed.

“Although the facts in the reports date to years in which the law in force at the time prevented prosecution because there hadn’t been a complaint by the injured party within a year, postponement [of a trial] was made possible due to a special provision by the pope last July 29, which removed the bar on proceeding,” the statement said.

The alleged abuse took place at the Pre-seminary of St. Pius X, an institution located on Vatican grounds that trains altar boys destined to serve at papal Masses and other liturgies within St. Peter’s Basilica. Generally speaking, the boys who attend the pre-seminary are in the Italian equivalent of middle school.

At the time of the alleged abuse in 2012, Martinelli was himself still a minor seminarian but occupied the role of a superior, leading to the charge that he abused his authority to coerce a fellow seminarian into sexual acts.

When the accusations first became public in 2017, the cardinal who serves as Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, Angelo Comastri, denied them.

“I’m not aware of any abuses,” Comastri told an Italian news agency. “I never knew anything about boys being abused.”

The allegations against Martinelli have prompted not only a Vatican investigation, but also one by civil authorities in Rome which, according to recent reports in the Italian media, is close to being finished.

The accusation against Radice from the alleged victim is that as rector, he favored Martinelli despite concerns about his conduct and dismissed allegations without a thorough investigation.

In 2017, another alleged victim spoke to an Italian TV program called Le Iene (“The Hyenas”).

“The rector, Monsignor Enrico Radice, believed in [Martinelli] a lot and he was always the first altar boy to serve the Pope,” he said.

Follow John Allen on Twitter: @JohnLAllenJr

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