October 23, 2012, Tuesday — The Sentence Explained

The Vatican court which found papal butler Paolo Gabriele guilty of stealing sensitive papal documents today released the reasons for its decision. Meanwhile, a second trial in the “Vatileaks” case, this time of a Vatican computer technician, is scheduled to begin on November 5


One trial finished…

No we know the reasoning of the Vatican’s judges in the ongoing “Vatileaks” case.

The three-judge Vatican tribunal that convicted the Pope’s former butler of stealing sensitive papal documents today issued its written explanation of how it reached its October 6 verdict against Paolo Gabriele.

It said Gabriele’s crime was a “reprehensible” violation of trust that damaged the Pope himself and the rights of the Holy See, of the Vatican City State, and of the entire Catholic Church.

Noting what they termed Gabriele’s “simplistic” intellectual capacity, the judges agreed that Gabriele did think he was doing the right thing by leaking the documents.

Gabriele admitted during his trial three weeks ago that, while working closely with Pope Benedict and his two personal secretaries, he had photocopied documents, then given them to an Italian journalist for publication. His reason? Not for money, he testified, but to somehow bring to Pope Benedict’s attention the “evil and corruption” around him, matters he believed the Pope was not being suffiently informed about. (During the trial, Gabriele testified that sometimes the Pope, as he ate dinner — Paolo served the Pope his meals, and sometimes actually sat down at table and dined with him — the Pope would express little or no knowledge of certain matters, especially regarding internal Vatican affairs, that Gabriele said he felt the Pope should have been well-informed about…)

Gabriele was convicted of aggravated theft and sentenced to 18 months in prison, currently being served under house arrest (he lives in an apartment inside Vatican City with his wife and three chidlren).

Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican press office, said today that a papal pardon of Gabriele is still a possibility.

But a pardon seems less likely now than several weeks ago, when some were expecting the Pope to pardon Gabriele immediately after the verdict and sentencing. That did not happen. So it is possible that he will actually be confined for the next year and half.

And Father Lombardi noted that the investigation into Gabriele remains open and that prosecutors could still charge him with other, different crimes.

The judges in their written explanation said Gabriele betrayed the “good name” of all the people involved in the case, and that secrecy owed to the Pope in his role as a sovereign.

Some observers saw this as a hint at the direction Vatican prosecutors may take if they pursue further charges against the former butler.

Gabriele’s attorney has decided not to appeal the verdict or sentence.

Though previously the Vatican had said Gabriele would serve his 18 months in an Italian prison, because the Vatican itself does not have a long-term detention facility, the Vatican today said Gabriele will be kept in a room inside the barracks of the Vatican gendarmes, not in an Italian jail.

This seems intended to keep Gabriele from talking to people outside of the Vatican, for example, other prisoners in an Italian prison.

Italian jounalist Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Pope Benedict XVI’s, published in May, printed more than two dozen of the stolen documents.

“Gabriele was able to commit the crime because of his relationship of service to the Holy Father, which is necessarily based on trust that allowed the Pope to leave in his care documents that he illegally approrpriated,” the judges wrote.

But Nuzzi evidently did not pay Gabriele anything for these secret documents.

And this is why the judges, in thie explanation released today, said that, while Gabriele himself may not have profited financially from stealing the documents, he obtained an “intellectual and moral” profit from doing so.

This was an important point.

According to the Vatican’s own legal code, it is necessary for some “profit” to be found, some benefit to the alleged thief. If none is found, the alleged “crime” of “aggravated theft” is not a crime at all — according to the letter of the code.

Without an actual “profit,” the action of taking the documents would only be something like “inappropriate handling” (not “theft”) of sensitive office correspondence (in this case, taking the documents home to his house).

So finding a “profit” was a strict legal necessity to enable the judge to find Gabriele guilty of theft, and the judges used this argument — that he received an “intellectual and moral” profit from the thefts — to fill this legal need.

But this does make it all the clearer that there is no evidence, up until now, that Gabriele received anything whatsoever in terms of monetary compensation for his sharing of these documents.

Of course, an inventory of all the documents Gabriele took has never been made public. Therefore, we do not know if he sold other documents to other “clients”; for example, to other intelligence agencies. Nothing even hinting that has emerged.

But Gabriele took originals and photocopies of “more than a thousand pages” of private letters from the Pope’s apartment, keeping them in his own study at home, and Nuzzi’s book makes use of only a couple dozen documents.

In his home, Gabriele also kept a huge archive of material (“hundreds of thousands” of pages) on matters ranging from Italian freemasonry to Italy’s intelligence services.

Pope Benedict responded to Nuzzi’s book in part by naming a commission of three cardinals — Spaniard Julian Herranz (a member of Opus Dei), Slovak Jozef Tomko, and Italian Salvatore De Giorgi — to investigate the origin of the leaks in a “parallel” inquiry, alongside that of the Vatican judicial system which led to Gabriele’s trial.

The results of this special cardinals’ investigation have never been made public.

Once, early on, when I asked one of the cardinals what they were discovering, he told me that obviously he could not reveal anything, but that “we are working hard.”

So it could be that the Pope has received a detailed report which contains some information different from anything that came out at the public trial.

…another about to begin

A second defendant was named in this “Vatileaks” case: Claudio Sciarpelletti, 48, a computer expert in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

Sciarpelletti was accused of aiding and abetting Gabriele’s crime.

He has said through his lawyer that he is innocent.

His trial is due to start November 5, Lombardi said today.

The technician was arrested on May 25 as the Vatican investigation into the leaks unfolded, but was released the following day.

He was initially due to stand in the dock with Gabriele in early October, but was granted a separate trial. His alleged role in stealing and leaking the memos is considered “rather marginal” by the judiciary, Lombardi said.

His trial is likely to be even shorter than Gabriele’s, the spokesman added.

An envelope containing stolen documents and addressed to Gabriele was found in Sciarpelletti’s desk in the Vatican. He has claimed ignorance, insisting he had forgotten it was there and never opened it.

The technician has also admitted, however, that two people gave him envelopes containing documents to pass on to the butler.

The relationship between the two is unclear. While Gabriele insists they were friends, Sciarpelletti says they were nothing more than acquaintances.

The trial could reveal interesting elements regarding five witnesses — or possible accomplices — whose names have been blacked out and replaced with letters of the alphabet in court documents.

In the text of their ruling just released, the judges said there was no proof that Gabriele had any accomplices.

Still, they noted that investigations are continuing “into the existence of other possible responsibilities in the leaks of reserved documents.” That sounds like it is possible that others could be indicted in this still mysterious case.

Finally, journalists have reported in the Italian press that Vatican police have donloaded photgraphs, videos and voice recordings from Gabriele’s cell phone, and that these recordings include images of the Pope. These reports have not yet been confirmed, but if they are true, we may be dealing with a case, not just of stolen papal documents, but of secretly recorded private meetings and conversations.

Stay tuned.

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