Pope's butler to take witness stand in trial for theft
THE VATICAN City trial of Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler accused of the theft of confidential documents from the papal apartment, reaches its substantive point tomorrow when he takes the witness stand for what could be a key interrogation.
Against the background of a huge media presence, this unprecedented trial opened last Saturday with a largely procedural first session concerned with the admission of minor elements of the prosecution’s evidence. It saw the court make two important decisions, however.
First, Gabriele’s trial has been separated from that of his co- defendant, computer technician Claudio Sciarpelletti, accused of aiding and abetting Gabriele. It is believed Sciarpelletti’s role in the theft was little more than that of a postman who passed documents to and from Gabriele.
Second, and more significantly, the court ruled it would not seek as evidence the result of a commission of cardinals instigated by the pope to look into the “Vatileaks” phenomenon – the stream of confidential Holy See documents leaked to the media earlier this year. The court ruled that the commission was answerable only to the pope and was not relevant to Vatican City law.
Observers have speculated that the commission’s report, compiled by senior cardinals Julian Herranz, Joseph Tomko and Salvatore de Giorgi, and delivered to the pope in late July, might contain fresh information, especially with regard to the involvement of other senior Holy See figures.
While the court intends to ignore the commission, it will hear evidence from at least one senior Holy See figure: Msgr Georg Ganswein, the pope’s private secretary. On Saturday, he was named as one of eight witnesses due to be called by the court.
The other seven include six Vatican gendarmerie officers and Cristina Cernetti, one of the “memores”, or consecrated women, who work in the papal apartment. Gabriele’s defence lawyer called for a plan of Msgr Ganswein’s apartment in the apostolic palace to be submitted as evidence but this was denied by the court on security grounds.
Other details of the investigation to emerge were that Vatican police had sequestered 82 boxes of documentation from Gabriele’s apartments in the Vatican City and at Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence. In addition, police installed CCTV surveillance outside Gabriele’s Vatican apartment in early June, some two weeks after his arrest.
Gabriele has already admitted his guilt, acknowledging that he passed documents to Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of the book His Holiness: the Secret Papers of Benedict XVI. Published last May, the book portrays a Holy See driven by internecine rivalry, political manoeuvres and occasional corruption.
Gabriele has always said he acted for the good of the Catholic Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit and with a mission to expose “evil and corruption”. Many observers wonder if he acted alone or on behalf of some senior Holy See figure, however.
Presiding judge Giuseppe della Torre suggested on Saturday that the trial might be concluded this week, after four more hearings. If found guilty, Gabriele faces up to four years in prison. Many believe, however, that he will eventually be pardoned by the pope.