VATICAN CITY — At the close of his civil trial in the Vatican, former Holy See diplomat Msgr. Carlo Alberto Capella was found guilty of possessing and distributing child pornography and given a five-year prison sentence.
The priest was also asked to pay a fine of 5,000 euro. The penitentiary where he will serve his prison term is unknown.
Capella, 51, a former Vatican diplomat, was recalled from the U.S. nunciature in Washington, D.C., last September, after the U.S. State Department notified the Vatican of a “possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images” by a diplomat.
His June 23 sentence came after the priest admitted his guilt in the trial’s opening session the day before, saying he committed his crimes during a period of “personal crisis” and weakness after being transferred to Washington, D.C.
During the trial, Capella admitted to opening an account on Tumblr, where he obtained and exchanged lewd images and videos of children online. Some 40 to 55 images were found downloaded onto his cellphone, computer and a cloud storage device.
The images were divided into two primary categories, one for images from Japanese comics and the other for images of children aged 14 to 17. At least one video showed a child depicted in an explicit sex act with an adult.
At the start of Saturday’s hearing, Vatican Promoter of Justice Gian Piero Milano asked that Capella be jailed for five years and nine months, paying a fine of 10,000 euro since he “knowingly and willingly” acquired “huge quantities” of pornographic images involving children, shared them and downloaded them to his devices.
The images of the comics, Milano said, were worse than other images found, since they were hand drawn and thought out with intent and creativity.
However, Capella’s lawyer asked that the sentence be reduced to the minimum, arguing that the priest was psychologically unstable due to a personal crisis at the time his crimes began and that Vatican law does not specify what the term “huge quantities” means.
The final sentence of five years and a fine of 5,000 euro brought the two-day trial to a close.
In his closing remarks before receiving the sentence, Capella said what he did is “evident” and happened in the context of a “period of fragility.”
“I am very sorry,” he said, “because my weakness has shamed the Church, my diocese, the Holy See and my family.”
Capella said he viewed his crime as “a bump in the road of my priestly life” and voiced hope that his case would help others in the future.
Originally from Capri, Capella was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Milan and in 1993 was asked by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini to enter the diplomatic service of the Holy See.
In 2004, after studying at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, he was sent to the apostolic nunciature in India, and three years later, in 2007, he was transferred to the nunciature in Hong Kong. He was then transferred back to the Vatican in 2011 and worked in the Secretariat of State’s Office for Relations With the States.
In June 2016, he was asked to move to Washington, D.C., and was upset by the decision, but said nothing. Capella began using Tumblr shortly after his arrival to the U.S. in July 2016 to look at memes, and he eventually started viewing pornography and child pornography.
The U.S. State Department flagged Capella’s activity and informed the Vatican of a possible violation Aug. 21, 2017.
In September of that year, Canada issued a nationwide arrest warrant for the priest, who was then recalled to the Vatican. Police in Ontario said he had accessed, possessed and distributed child pornography while visiting Windsor over the 2016 Christmas holiday.
Before his trial, Capella had been held in a Vatican jail cell since April 9, 2018, and was indicted by the Holy See June 9.