Pope's pardon said to end sad, painful chapter

Mon, Dec 24, 2012, 00:00

When papal spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi summoned the media on Saturday to confirm that Pope Benedict XVI had just “pardoned” his errant butler, Paolo Gabriele, he also said that what had been a “sad and painful chapter” for the pope has now “ended”. But, has it really?

On Saturday morning, the pope visited Gabriele in his Vatican prison cell, where he was serving an 18-month sentence for having stolen confidential documents from the pontifical apartment.

Many of those documents appeared in a controversial book, His Holiness: The Secret Papers Of Benedict XVI, published last May and containing a highly unflattering portrayal of a bitterly divided Holy See.

Much as expected, however, the pope has opted to pardon both his butler and computer technician, Claudio Sciarpelletti, a man who played a small part in the thefts. Both men stood trial and were condemned in short Vatican City trials in October and November.

When he appeared in court, Gabriele had argued that his actions were the expression of an overall malaise in certain Holy See quarters. He portrayed a pope who was not fully informed and who was also easily manipulated by those around him.

Gabriele furthermore said that he was “innocent” of the crime of theft but that he was, however, guilty of having betrayed the trust of the pope, “whom I love as a son”. He claimed that his role was that of whistleblower, keen to draw the pope’s attention to the climate of internecine rivalry, corruption and intense politicising within the Holy See, adding that his concerns were shared by others in the Holy See.

Throughout his trial, many observers argued that Gabriele would eventually be granted a papal pardon. This speculation was based on a widespread belief that, while he was clearly the man who physically stole the documents, he was not the mastermind behind the embarrassing thefts.

Open to interpretation

Benedict’s pardon is open to interpretation. It could be that he sees Gabriele as a well-intentioned but fundamentally misguided bungler who acted on his own, to catastrophic effect.

Or, it could be that he and those around him accept that Gabriele was but a small pawn in a much larger Holy See power game.

In that latter context, Benedict last week met with the commission of cardinals who have been assigned to run an investigation not only into the thefts from the papal apartment but also into a whole series of media leaks in the last year.

The cardinals submitted their first report, not made public, last July.

Will there be more to follow? Is “Vatileaks” really over?