October 1, 2012, Monday — The “Vatileaks” Trial Begins

The perplexing “Vatileaks” case: tomorrow, Tuesday, October 2, will be the first day of actual testimony in the trial of the Pope’s former butler
An “iconic moment” will occur in a tiny Vatican courtroom tomorrow morning, if all goes according to schedule.

The Pope’s personal secretary for the past nine years (since 2003), Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, 56 (photo above with Pope Benedict) will come face to face with Paolo Gabriele, 46, the “butler” of Pope Benedict XVI for six years, from 2006 until this spring (photo below, holding an umbrella over the Pope).

Gaenswein is being summoned to give testimony in the trial of Gabriele, who is charged with betraying the Pope’s trust and stealing sensitive documents from his very desk, then turning them over to a journalist for publication, a crime for which, under the laws of the Vatican City State (remember, a separate country under international law) he could face as much as six years in prison (such a sentence would, however, be served in an Italian jail under the terms of Vatican-Italy agreements).

Gaenswein is a key witness against Gabriele.

The two were face to face once before.

Four months ago, in late May (on May 21, to be precise), just after a book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, entitled His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Pope Benedict XVI (cover above) had appeared in Italy, Gaenswein after leafing through the pages of the book, saw a document (related to a foundation named after the Pope, it is said in Rome) which had been on his desk only, and nowhere else in the Vatican.

Gaenswein realized at that moment — it is said — that the document had to have been taken by someone inside the papal household itself.

He called the members of the household together: the Pope’s other secretary, Fr. Alfred Xuereb; the four Italian women “Memores Domini” (literally, “Rememberers of the Lord,” those who concentrate their lives on remembering the life and work of Christ, a group of consecrated lay people within the Communion and Liberation movement) who serve in the Vatican apartments and cook the Pope’s meals; Birgit Wansing; and Gabriele.

There, in front of the others, Ganswein accused Gabriele of having taken the document from his desk.

According to Gaenswein’s reconstruction of events, in an account published by the Vatican as part of the public indictment, the Pope’s former butler denied any responsibility, even after Gaenswein openly said “You did it,” or words to that effect.

In tomorrow’s hearing, judges will ask Gaenswein to reconstruct these events, to make clear that only “Paoletto” (“little Paul,” the Pope’s nickname for Paolo Gabriele, shown here in the Vatican courtroom on Saturday morning, Sepetmber 29) could have had at least these two of the documents that were published by Nuzzi.

By May 23, Gabriele was under arrest. He was held through June and July, then allowed to return to his home in Vatican City, not far from the St. Anne’s Gate, where he lives with his wife and three children, pending trial.

Now the trial is beginning, and tomorrow will be the first testimony, and Gaenswein will be among the handful of witnesses called.


The Role of the Secretary

The Pope, as supreme teacher and ruler of the universal Church, has final and, indeed, infallible authority (as Vatican I taught) — when speaking “ex cathedra” — over Church doctrine, and is also the supreme legislator of the Church.

This authority and, in a manner of speaking, power, invested in one man, means that the role of those close to the Pope, protecting him from overwork and from matters that might otherwise consume too much of his precious time, becomes of very great importance, in practical, administrative terms.

And so the papal personal secretary becomes the “gate-keeper” of the Pope.

And this, of course, may, and does, cause friction.

For example, a person who wishes to speak directly with the Pope, and finds it difficult, or impossible, to have an audience, or to get a message directly to the Holy Father, may feel considerable frustration.

One of the many mysteries in this case is that Gabriele — who was in daily personal contact with Pope Benedict — has claimed that he felt he was acting out of “love for the Church, and the Holy Father,” by copying or stealing the documents that Nuzzi published.

This has raised eyebrows. How could Gabriele see what he did, or seems to have done, in these terms?

In his self-explanation, Gabriele has siad he felt the Church needed a “shock” in order to confront a number of problems and issues, and that he concluded that publishing the details of certain controversies might provide that “shock.”


The Two Secretaries

As Italian journalists have written, Gaenswein — like his predecessor, Father (now Cardinal Archbishop of Cracow, Poland) Stanislaw Dziwisz, Pope John Paul II’s personal secretary throughout his long pontificate — plays an important role in the Vatican Curia, the Pope’s court.

In 2007, Gaenswein described a meeting he had had in 2005 with Dziwisz, shortly after John Paul’s death, to “learn the ropes” of being the Pope’s secretary. (Gaenswein was speaking to his fellow German countryman, Peter Seewald, author of important book-length interviews with Pope Benedict, two when he was a cardinal.)

“There is no papal school of thought,” Gaenswein told Seewald. “I just had a face to face meeting with my predecessor.” (This meeting took place about two weeks after Gaenswein was appointed and entered the papal apartment, so evidently in early May, 2005.) “Fr. Stanislaw gave me an envelope containing some letters and the key to a safe, a very old German safe; then all he said to me was: ‘You have a very important and wonderful but very, very difficult task ahead of you. All I can say to you is that the Pope must not be crushed by anything or anyone; you will have to work out for yourself how to ensure this doesn’t happen.’”

The content of the envelope Gaenswein received remains top secret: “It contains things that are passed on from one papal secretary to the next,” Gaenswein told Seewald.


The first hearing on Saturday, September 29

Here is the clear CNS report on what happened at the first hearing in this trial, which took place Saturday morning, September 29:

VATICAN CITY, September 29, 2012 (CNS) — A Vatican tribunal determined the two suspects indicted for their parts in the VatiLeaks’ scandal should be tried separately.

During the opening session of the trial September 29, the judges said the trial against Paolo Gabriele, the papal assistant charged with aggravated theft, would continue October 2. A separate trial for Claudio Sciarpelletti on charges of aiding and abetting Gabriele will be scheduled at a later date, they said.

Giuseppe Dalla Torre, the presiding judge, said four more sessions “next week should be sufficient” for completing Gabriele’s trial.

Gabriele, a 46-year-old married father of three, will be the first person to be questioned October 2. No members of Gabriele’s family were present for the trial’s opening.

Although under Vatican law a defendant is not obliged to appear in person, Gabriele — dressed in a light gray suit and tie — was present in the courtroom September 29.

Sciarpelletti, a computer technician in the Vatican Secretariat of State, was represented by his lawyer, who said his client fell ill unexpectedly because he felt too nervous.

The trial’s first session, in a small Vatican courtroom just to the southwest of the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica, lasted two and a half hours, which included an 80-minute break during which the judges went behind closed doors to consider the motions and objections made by the defense lawyers as the trial opened. They decided:

— The court would exclude evidence from two interviews Domenico Giani, head of the Vatican police force, conducted with Gabriele while in custody because they were done without the presence of his lawyers.

— The court would exclude information gathered during a conversation between Giani and Msgr. Georg Ganswein, the Pope’s secretary, concerning how Gabriele allegedly obtained a check for 100,000 euro (almost $123,000) and a nugget of what’s presumed to be gold, which were reportedly found in Gabriele’s possession.

Meanwhile, the judges rejected other motions entered by the defense, including:

— A request for a ruling that a security camera installed on the landing outside Gabriele’s Vatican apartment lacked the proper authorization from Vatican judges.

— A request to enter into evidence transcripts of interviews conducted by a papally appointed commission of cardinals to investigate how information is handled and released by various Vatican offices. The judges determined the cardinal’s work was a matter concerning the Catholic Church and not Vatican City State.

— An argument that the judges were not competent to hear a case which could involve matters falling under the so-called “pontifical secret” because, the judges said, the contents of the stolen documents were not the object of the investigation.

— A motion to overturn the indictment on the basis that it was too “generic.”

— A request for the floor plan of Msgr. Ganswein’s office. The judges cited security concerns in denying the request.

The judges also said they would rule on other motions at a later date, including:

— Whether to accept evidence gathered from the apartment Gabriele used when he was with the pope at Castel Gandolfo. The defense said the material was gathered without informing the defendant or his lawyers.

— Whether or not to test the presumed gold nugget for fingerprints.

At the beginning of the trial — which opened with the ringing of a small bell and the announcement, “The trial is open” — the presiding judge called the names of the 13 people asked to testify either by the court or by the defense teams.

Eight witnesses will be called to testify in Gabriele’s trial and five are set to be called for Sciarpelletti’s case.

The Gabriele witness list includes six Vatican police officers, as well as Msgr. Ganswein and Cristina Cernetti, one of the consecrated laywomen who work in the papal household. Neither of them was present in the courtroom.

The Sciarpelletti witness list includes: Gabriele; Giani; Maj. William Kloter, vice commander of the Swiss Guard; and Msgr. Carlo Maria Polvani, head of the information and communications section of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

With about 30 people — including the judges and lawyers — present, the small Vatican courtroom was full. There was no jury because a Vatican trial is decided by a three-judge panel.

The Vatican television center and Vatican newspaper photographer provided media with images from the opening minutes of the trial, which was not broadcast.

Although Vatican trials do not begin with defendants entering a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty,” before the judges ruled to separate the two trials Sciarpelletti’s defense lawyer said his client has declared himself innocent. The lawyer, Gianluca Benedetti, pointed out that, in fact, Sciarpelletti told investigators the envelope found in his desk came from Gabriele, which pointed the investigation in that direction. In addition, he said, the information in the envelope was not confidential and had already been made public.

In the indictment, Vatican investigators said Sciarpelletti changed his story during interrogation, claiming at one point that a monsignor gave him the envelope to give to Gabriele. Sciarpelletti, 48, faces a maximum of one year in prison.

When Benedetti told the court his client and Gabriele weren’t close friends, but just acquaintances, Gabriele nodded his head.

Gabriele was arrested in May after Vatican police found papal correspondence and other items in his Vatican apartment; he faces up to four years in prison. Most of the documents dealt with allegations of corruption, abuse of power and a lack of financial transparency at the Vatican.

Giani told the court the papers collected from Gabriele’s apartment filled 82 boxes. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters the boxes were different sizes and that most of the material in them was not pertinent to the case.

Gabriele, who did not make any declaration regarding his guilt or innocence during the opening session, had admitted to Vatican investigators that he took the material and leaked it to a journalist; he claimed he did so for the good of the Church and of the Pope. His previous lawyer told reporters he had sent a personal letter to Pope Benedict in July, seeking forgiveness.

Under Vatican City law, a confession is not absolute proof of guilty. The trial is designed to verify the information gathered during the investigation, including the interrogation of Gabriele.

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