ROME — Pope Francis has decided to move a youth seminary outside Vatican City, taking action before the Vatican’s criminal tribunal renders a verdict in a sex abuse trial involving a former seminarian and an ex-rector.
The Vatican made no mention of the ongoing trial in its announcement Tuesday that the St. Pius X pre-seminary would relocate somewhere in Rome starting in September. The facility serves as a residence for altar boys ages 12-18 who serve at papal Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Vatican did not say why Francis made the decision. It said the move had been under study for some time and would also put the boys closer to their schools and recreational activities in Italy’s capital.
The presence of the residence inside the Vatican city-state’s walls posed a legal headache for the Vatican after a former seminarian came forward in 2017 to accuse a more senior one of having sexually abused his roommate in their dorm room.
Vatican criminal prosecutors opened an investigation, and the trial started last year. Prosecutors have accused the seminarian, now a priest, of sexual assault against L.G., and the rector of covering it up. They have denied the charges.
Some former seminarians have testified about a homophobic environment in the residence during the time they were there and about younger boys being bullied. Others, however, have testified that the boys were happy and that the rector checked the dorms at night and never heard or saw any abuse.
Vatican City is a sovereign state, meaning its own law enforcement officials were responsible for investigating any potential crime in the seminary. But the residence itself was run by a religious order of the diocese of Como, Italy, complicating the chain of responsibility.
By moving the residence into Italian territory, the Vatican can distance itself from any future responsibility about what goes on in the seminary.