Climate activists tell Vatican court they never intended to hurt ancient statue in glue protest

Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) activists Ester Goffi, fourth from left, and Guido Viero, fifth from left, arrive at The Vatican, Wednesday, May 24, 2023, where they are on trial for having staged a protest in August inside the Vatican Museums during which they glued their hands to the base of one of the ancient sculpture, the Laocoon, and face up to three years and 3,000 euros in fines, according to Ultima Generazione. Authorities raided 15 properties across Germany on Wednesday, May 24, 2023 and seized assets in an investigation into the financing of protests by the Last Generation climate activist group, prosecutors said. Banners and placards in Italian urge not to criminalize pacific demonstrators and one reads " We don't pay for fossil fuels" and (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Two environmental activists told the Vatican’s criminal court on Wednesday they never intended to damage an ancient statue in the Vatican Museums when they glued their hands to its marble base, in one of a series of flash protests across Europe to draw attention to climate change.

The activists, Guido Viero and Ester Goffi, are on trial in the Vatican City State, accused of aggravated damage and face up to three years in prison and some 3,000 euros ($3,227) in fines, according to the Last Generation environmental group. A third defendant who filmed the protest, Laura Zorzini, is accused of failing to follow police orders but was not in the courtroom Wednesday.

On Aug. 18, Viero and Goffi entered the Vatican Museums and glued their hands to the base of Laocoon statue, one of the most important ancient statues in the collection that is believed to date from the 1st century B.C., and hung up a banner reading: “Last Generation: No gas and no carbon.” After their hands were unglued, they were arrested and subsequently charged by Vatican prosecutors.

The first operative hearing of the trial came on the same day that German police raided 15 properties linked to the German Last Generation climate activist group in a further sign of government impatience over their protests.

In the Vatican tribunal Wednesday, Viero strongly defended the Last Generation cause, saying he felt an obligation as a father and grandfather to draw attention to Italy’s failure to halt global warming. He cited as evidence the 15 people who died in floods last week in northern Italy in what scientist say was a case of climate change-induced extreme weather.

“Today is a day of mourning,” Viero told the court, referring to the flood victims. “I am trying to do something for future generations.”

When Judge Giuseppe Pignatone pointed out that the Vatican doesn’t invest in fossil fuels and is a separate state from Italy, Viero concurred that the protest in the Vatican Museums was more “mediatic” than anything else.

He and Goffi said their protest never intended to harm the statue, as Vatican prosecutors allege.

Goffi, who has a degree in art restoration, recalled she had brought a glue remover in her purse, but that Vatican restorers and a nurse summoned to the scene instead used acetone, the key ingredient in nail polish remover. She said she had been assured by colleagues that the glue and remover she had brought wouldn’t cause permanent damage to the marble.

The head of the Vatican Museums’ marble restoration laboratory, Guy Devreux, who was summoned to the scene, told the court that he decided not to use Goffi’s glue-remover because he didn’t believe it safe for the marble. He said the damage was ultimately less than he had anticipated, and was restored within a week, but was nevertheless permanent.

“We did a painterly intervention that just masked the effective state of the marble,” he said. He added that the marble base was “absolutely” to be considered an “integral part of the work.”

Last Generation has said it had targeted the Laocoon statue, which is believed to have been carved in Rhodes in 40-30 B.C., because of the symbolic story behind it. According to legend and the Vatican Museums’ own website, Laocoon warned his fellow Trojans against accepting the wooden horse left by the Greeks during the Trojan War. The group said the climate crisis is the modern-day warning that is being unheeded by political leaders.

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