Pope's butler to be tried for 'aggravated theft'
THERE WAS a major development in the “Vatileaks” scandal in the Holy See yesterday when senior Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi held a news conference at which he confirmed that Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, will stand trial in the Vatican next month, charged with “aggravated theft”.
Mr Gabriele, who is under house arrest in the Vatican, was arrested on May 23rd after the Vatican gendarmerie found a huge quantity of Pope Benedict’s private papers and documents in his Vatican apartment. Many of these documents had featured in the controversial book published earlier this year, His Holiness – The Secret Papers Of Benedict XVI. It portrays a Holy See undermined by corruption, careerist ambition and bitter rivalry between senior cardinals.
Although another secretary of state employee, Claudio Sciarpelletti, is charged with “aiding and abetting” in the bill of indictment made public yesterday, Vatican investigators seem to believe Mr Gabriele acted alone, motivated by his concern about “evil and corruption” in the Holy See.
In the indictment papers, Mr Gabriele is quoted as telling investigators: “I confirm that seeing evil and corruption all over the church, I reached a point of no return in these recent times of degeneration . . . I was convinced that a shock, even a media shock would prove salutary and put the church back on the rails. On top of that, I have always been very interested in intelligence work and in some way I have always felt that in the church this role was played by the Holy Spirit and in a certain sense, I have always felt myself to be his special agent.”
During his detention, Mr Gabriele underwent two psychiatric examinations, with experts concluding that there was no medical reason why he should not be charged and stand trial.
The indictment also contains hitherto unknown elements such as the fact that a gold nugget, an 1851 edition of the Aeneid and a cheque for €100,000 made out to Pope Benedict, all stolen from the pontifical apartment, were also discovered in Mr Gabriele’s Vatican apartment. Mr Gabriele reportedly told the prosecutors that such is the disarray of the Pope’s desk that these items became mixed up with the stolen documents.
A further source of intrigue is the reference to Mr Gabriele’s unnamed “spiritual advisor” to whom copies of much of the stolen material was made available. The “advisor” allegedly burnt his copies of the documents because he concluded that they constituted something illegal. This same advisor had also advised Mr Gabriele to deny any involvement in the theft during a Poirot-style interrogation of the papal household by private secretary Monsignor George Gaenswein.
This case seems set to run and run, given that the Vatican prosecutors can “neither confirm nor deny” future investigations inside the Vatican and perhaps also outside of Italy. Mr Gabriele, if found guilty, could face a six-year sentence. Pope Benedict, however, could also opt to issue a papal pardon.
In the meantime, with the number of “elector cardinals” due to be down to 114 by the end of the year, nothing in the 36-page indictment released by the Holy See yesterday alters the impression that this whole “Vatileaks” scandal is nothing less than pre-Conclave politicking, in readiness for the eventual election of 85-year-old Benedict’s successor.