A verdict in the case of the pope’s butler accused of leaking papal documents may help close one of the most damaging scandals of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy. However, even after Paolo Gabriele’s fate was decided by a Vatican tribunal yesterday, a core question would remain open: Did he really act alone in exposing the secrets of one of the most secretive institutions in the world?
Gabriele faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted of aggravated theft, accused of stealing the pope’s private correspondence and passing it on to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book revealed the intrigue, petty infighting and allegations of corruption and homosexual liaisons that plague the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. It has been, in short, the gravest security breach of the papal entourage in recent memory.
In his testimony this week, Gabriele insisted “in the most absolute way” that he had no accomplices.
However, in earlier statements to prosecutors, he named a half-dozen people who “suggested” he take action, among them Vatican cardinals and monsignors. He even identified one layman as the source of a segment of Nuzzi’s book His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI’s secret papers detailing some questionable conflicts of interest of some Vatican police officers.
Gabriele distanced himself from such statements during the trial, saying he did not recognize himself in the prosecutors’ reconstruction of his interrogation.
That said, on the eve of Gabriele’s verdict, Nuzzi tweeted that after Gabriele’s fate is decided, “Will the protagonists of the papers who emerged be persecuted with courage?”
There is another suspect in the case: Claudio Sciarpelletti, a 48-year-old computer expert in the Vatican secretariat of state who is charged with aiding and abetting the crime. Police say they found an envelope in his desk that said “Personal P. Gabriele” on it, with documentation inside.
Sciarpelletti has said Gabriele gave him the envelope, and later, that someone identified in court documents as “W” gave it to him to pass on to Gabriele.
Sciarpelletti’s lawyer successfully got his case separated at the start of Gabriele’s trial. However, attorney Gianluca Benedetti has said his client was innocent and that, regardless, there were no “reserved documents” in the envelope.
Gabriele had a chance to deliver a final statement to the court yesterday, after prosecutor Nicola Picardi and defense attorney Cristiana Arru gave their closing arguments. A verdict was expected later in the day by the three-judge panel.
Gabriele told the court that he stood by his June 5 confession to prosecutors and in his testimony, he detailed how he would photocopy papal correspondence in broad daylight, using the office photocopier in the presence of the pope’s two private secretaries. He pleaded innocent to the charge of aggravated theft, but said he was guilty of “having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would.”
The motive was not discussed during the trial, but Gabriele told prosecutors that he thought that exposing the “evil and corruption” that he saw around him would help put the church back on the right track.