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Environmental activists face up to three years in prison and fines for gluing themselves to statue in Vatican Museums

Workers in the Sala Regia carry a tapestry designed by Renaissance master Raphael as they prepare to place it on display in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Feb. 16, 2020. Ten enormous tapestries by Raphael are on display for one week in celebration of the 500th anniversary of his death in 1520. (CNS photo/courtesy of Vatican Museums)

VATICAN CITY — Two environmental activists who glued themselves to an ancient statue in the Vatican Museums said they did not intend to damage its marble base but wanted to draw attention to the urgency of acting against climate change, they told the Vatican’s criminal court in a hearing May 24.

The activists, Guido Viero, 62, and Ester Goffi, 26, are on trial at the Vatican for an August 2022 protest in which they glued their hands to the base of the statue of Laocoön and His Sons, believed to date back to the first century B.C.

They held up a banner that read “No Gas and No Coal” and showed the logo of the Last Generation environmental group, which organizes civil disobedience protests. A third activist who filmed the incident is also facing charges but was not present at the May 24 hearing.

After the hearing Goffi told the Italian news agency ANSA that the activists each face a maximum of three years in prison and fines of more than 3,000 euros (roughly $3,200). The court is expected to deliver the sentences after the trial’s next hearing, which is scheduled for June 12.

During the May 24 hearing, Viero told the court that he was not ashamed of his actions since he was acting in the interest of future generations, Vatican News reported.

The statue of Laocoön and His Sons is seen in the Vatican Museums in this file photos from Nov. 21, 2007. The sculpture was the target of an August 2022 protest to draw attention to climate change. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“I am a father and a grandfather, and I feel responsible for my daughter and granddaughter, but I see that the Italian state is not protecting its citizens, such as the victims of the floods in Romagna,” he said, referring to the 15 people killed by the severe flooding in northern Italy, which scientists say was caused by extreme weather induced by climate change. “I am not ashamed because I decided to do something for them and for future generations,” Viero said.

The Associated Press reported that during the hearing Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican City State criminal court, noted that the Vatican is a separate state from Italy and does not invest in fossil fuels. In response, Viero said that the protest in the Vatican Museums was principally intended to draw media attention to the urgency of acting against climate change.

According to Vatican News, Guy Devereux, the head of the Vatican Museum’s marble restoration laboratory, said at the hearing that the corrosive adhesive used to glue the activists’ hands to the sculpture resulted in permanent, exterior damage to its base, which has since been covered.

Goffi, who holds two degrees in art conservation, said she had consulted with professionals in the field in order to use an adhesive that would stick their hands to the surface but could be removed without damage. She had brought glue remover with her to the protest, but ultimately acetone was used to remove their hands from the marble.

Viero explained that the sculpture was chosen as the target of their protest since its subject, Laocoön, is believed to have warned the city of Troy against accepting a giant wooden horse from the Greeks during the Trojan War, but his fellow Trojans did not listen to him.

“We also want to open (people’s) eyes, but the world does not understand that if we do not change course we are headed toward catastrophe,” he said.