The 3 Italians involved will pay the equivalent of more than $31,000 in fines and reparations and received a 9-month suspended prison sentence.
A fine of over €29,000 (more than $31,000) in damages and a 9-month suspended prison sentence: This was the sentence handed down by the Vatican courts on June 12, 2023, at the end of the case brought against the climate activists who had glued their hands to a famous statue in the Vatican Museums, the Laocoon, last August. At the end of the hearing, attended by I.MEDIA, the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who denounced the “intention” of the defendants and their “awareness” of damaging the sculpture.
On August 18, 2022, two Italian activists from the “Ultima Generazione” (“Last Generation”) association glued their hands on the famous Laocoon statue. The masterpiece probably dates back to the 1st century BC or AD, and was rediscovered in the 16th century. Since then it has been preserved in the Vatican Museums. The activists wanted to protest against the Italian government’s lack of investment in sustainable energy.
For this reason, Guido Viero and Ester Goffi, the two activists who glued their hands to the statue together, were prosecuted by the Vatican justice system. It accused them of damaging a “public monument of inestimable historic-artistic value” using a “tenacious and corrosive” adhesive. A third person, Laura Zorzini — who photographed the “event” — was accused of transgressing “an order legally given by the competent authority” for refusing to be escorted to the Vatican Gendarmerie station. The three Italians had been heard at a previous hearing on May 24.
Intent to damage the sculpture
During this final hearing — which lasted over two hours — the plaintiff’s lawyer, Floriana Gigli, argued that the defendants had not expressed remorse for the damage caused to the Vatican Museums, but had on the contrary trivialized their act. In her plea, she stressed that they had used the Vatican’s “visibility” for their “propaganda,” disregarding the Pope’s known commitment to the environment.
Their environmental goal was not valid, the lawyer added, because art is also part of the “cultural and historical heritage” to be passed on to future generations. Floriana Gigli also pointed out that if they had been certain of not damaging the work, they would not have carried out their gesture on the base of the Laocoon, deemed by them to be of lesser value.
The lawyer pointed to the defendants’ “intention” and “awareness” that their action would damage the Roman sculpture, and their intention to disobey orders and create disorder. Arguing that the base, on which the activists had stuck their hands, was an integral part of the Laocoon and had suffered permanent damage, she demanded at the very least payment of the €3,148 for restoration incurred by the Vatican.
Next, the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, citing the clear violation of Vatican City State rules, asked for 2 years and 5 days’ imprisonment for Guido Viero, 2 years for Ester Goffi, a €3,000 fine for each of them, and one month’s imprisonment for Laura Zorzini. Finally, the magistrate requested that if the sentence were to be commuted, it should be conditional on payment of the damages inflicted.
The defense emphasized the “peaceful” behavior of the three defendants and their express wish not to damage the work of art, and called on the judges not to make this trial “a show trial,” but to base their ruling on formal evidence.
The Vatican sentence
The three-judge panel, presided over by Giuseppe Pignatone, then handed down its verdict after some 45 minutes of deliberation. Guido Viero and Ester Goffi were each sentenced to various fines of €1,500 and €120, and a 9-month suspended prison sentence. Together with nearly €25,000 in damages estimated by the judges, they will have to pay the Vatican a total of over €28,000. They will also have to pay €1,000 in legal fees for the plaintiff. Laura Zorzini was ordered to pay €120. All three will have to pay the costs of the trial.
At the last hearing in May, Guido Viero explained that he had “symbolically” chosen the Laocoon to evoke the myth of the man “who sought to warn his fellow citizens of the misfortunes to come.” The sculpture, which is one of the Museums’ emblems, represents the Trojan priest who tried to unmask the ruse of the Trojan Horse in the Iliad. Its restoration, initially estimated at over €15,000, ended up costing five times less. The restorer explained that the Museums wanted “a quick job” to avoid depriving tourists of this world-famous work for too long.