Italian Climate Activists Sentenced to Pay More Than $30,000 In Restitution By Vatican Court

Two environmental activists have been convicted of aggravated damage by a Vatican court and ordered to pay more than $30,000 (€28,148) in restitution after gluing their hands to an ancient statue in the papal museums during a climate change protest last August.

On August 18, Guido Viero and Ester Goffi, members of the Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) environmental activist group, glued their hands to the base of the statue Laocoön and His Sons and held up a pink banner that said “Last Generation: No gas and no carbon” in Italian. Activist Laura Zorzini filmed the pair.

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The life-sized sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons is believed to have been carved in Rhodes, Greece in 40-30 B.C. The emotional portrayal shows the priest of Apollo and his sons being attacked and killed by two great sea-serpents, sent by the gods Athena and Poseidon. The statue was excavated in Rome in 1506 and is now considered one of the most valuable artworks at the Vatican Museums.

In a press release, the environmental group Last Generation said it chose Laocoön and His Sons because of its symbolic narrative. According to legend and the Vatican Museums’ own website, Laocoön tried to warn his fellow Trojans against letting in the wooden horse left outside the city’s gates by the Greeks during the Trojan War. The group said scientists and activists are like Laocoön, trying to warn people around them about the consequences of current actions on the future, but are also not listened to or silenced by politics.

The prosecutor for the Vatican, Catia Summaria had requested a sentence of two years and $3,240 (€3,000) fine each for Viero and Goffi, and a sentence of one month for Zorzini. However, Summaria also said if the court decided on suspended sentences, which would allow Viero and Goffi to avoid prison as long as they complied with requirements and did not commit any further offenses, they should be ordered to repay the full cost of the damage to Laocoön and His Sons.

Restoration work alone has cost $3,400 (€3,148). During a previous hearing, the head of the Vatican Museums’ marble restoration laboratory, Guy Devreux, said the marble base of the sculpture was “absolutely” an “integral part of the work.” While the damage to the base of Laocoön and His Sons caused by the climate change protest was less than Devreaux had anticipated, it was still permanent.

In addition to the restitution of $30,000, Viero and Goffi were also fined $1,750 (€1,620) and received a nine-month suspended sentence. Zorzini was fined $130 (€120).

Floriana Gigli, the lawyer for the Vatican City State, argued that Viero and Goffi knew their action would cause “inestimable” damage to the sculpture, by citing their decision to glue their hands to the base, and accused them of exploiting Pope Francis’ concern for the environment.

On May 24 during a previous hearing, Viero and Goffi told the court they never intended to damage Laocoön and His Sons, and strongly defended their concern for the environment for prompting their protest. According to the Associated Press, which first reported the news, Goffi recalled that she had brought a glue solvent in her purse, but Vatican restorers used a different acetone-based substance to unglue their hands.

Neither Viero, Goffi, or Zorzini were present in the Vatican criminal tribunal for the verdicts.

The incident at Laocoön and His Sons last August was part of a wave of protests by environmental activists in Canada, the United States, and Europe at museums and other cultural institutions to draw attention to significant government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and the growing effects of climate change.


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