The Vatican gendarmerie has been an intriguing protagonist in the cloak-and-dagger “Vatileaks” case, set to wrap up yesterday with a verdict in the trial of a Holy See computer technician.
The head of the 150-member police corps in the world’s smallest state, Domenico Giani, a former Italian secret agent and a divisive figure who has pushed for more powers for the force, was due to testify yesterday, joined by his deputy, Gianluca Gauzzi Broccoletti, as well as William Kloter, deputy commander of the Swiss Guards, the papacy’s traditional defense force, which has had sometimes tense ties with the gendarmes.
Claudio Sciarpelletti is being tried for aiding and abetting in a series of leaks of confidential documents orchestrated by Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was convicted in a separate trial last month.
Sciarpelletti’s trial revolves around a suspicious envelope with an official Vatican stamp that was found in his desk after police launched an inquiry into a scandal that has been hugely embarrassing for the Holy See’s law enforcement agency.
The envelope contained documents with a series of allegations of shady dealings by the Vatican gendarmerie, which were included in a book by investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published Gabriele’s leaks.
Among the claims made in the book was that two gendarmes held stakes in private security companies in Italy in a possible conflict of interests.
The book also contains a mysterious story about a Vatican gendarmerie car found shot up near a restaurant where some gendarmes were eating in 2010.
The leaks scandal — dubbed “Vatileaks” in the Italian press — has shed light on tensions between the gendarmerie, which was established in its current form only in 1970, and the Swiss Guards, which date back to the 16th century.
Gendarmes have taken over powers from the Swiss Guards in recent years and in 2002 became the official law enforcement agency in the Vatican. It has also equipped itself with modern uniforms and increasingly sophisticated technology.
Gabriele was fascinated by conspiracy theories on Italian historical events and intelligence matters, according to his interrogations.
The gendarmes who searched his apartment said they found documents on the murder of Vatican-linked banker Roberto Calvi in 1982 and the disappearance of the teenage daughter of a Vatican employee in 1983.
They also said Gabriele had information on spying techniques, such as how to film people and record conversations surreptitiously.
One of the gendarmes, Giuseppe Pesce, testified at Gabriele’s trial that the butler had shown a “morbid” interest in the gendarmerie.
A report in I.Media, a news agency specializing in Vatican affairs, said the butler’s questions may have been more than just idle curiosity.
“Paolo Gabriele started out collecting information on the Vatican gendarmerie,” a well-informed source is quoted as saying in the report.
Gabriele told the source that the gendarmerie had amassed “too much power.”
I.Media said Gabriele was particularly shocked by the treatment of gendarmerie chaplain Giulio Viviani, who was sent away from the Vatican in 2010 after defending some of the gendarmes against their commander, Giani.
The report said Gabriele may also have wrongly interpreted casual conversations with his superior, the pope’s secretary Georg Gaenswein, about the gendarmerie as a go-ahead to carry out an investigation into the corps.
Tensions were exacerbated in the first days after his arrest on May 23, when the butler said that he was held in a cramped cell at the gendarmerie headquarters in the Vatican in which the light was left on day and night.