Blow for Pope's butler as trial gets underway29 September 2012
A Vatican judge has ruled that a report by a commision of cardinals investigating the scandal of leaked papal documents cannot be admitted as evidence in the trial of Pope Benedict XVI's former butler, Paolo Gabriele.
Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre on Saturday refused a motion by Mr Gabriele's lawyer to admit the report, saying it was sealed in confidentiality under the "pontifical secret". The former papal butler could be sentenced to up to four years in an Italian prison if convicted of aggravated theft. On the first day of his trial he was accused of stealing some 82 boxes of the Pope's personal papers and passing them to an Italian journalist who then published a number of them in a book that embarrassed the Vatican.
The so-called VatiLeaks trial got underway on Saturday morning in a tiny courtroom housed in a building behind St Peter's Basilica. Claudio Sciarpelletti, a Vatican computer technician charged with aiding and abetting Mr Gabriele,exercised his right not to be present in the courtroom and his attorneys then successfully petitioned Vatican magistrates to have him tried separately. He is expected to receive a suspended sentence.
Court proceedings against Mr Gabriele resume on Tuesday morning when the three judges who are leading the jury-less trial will put questions to him. At some point the Pope's personal secretary, Mgr Georg Gänswein, and the four consecrated women that serve as domestic help in the papal apartment, are also expected to give testimony.
Judge Dalla Torre said he belives the case against Mr Gabriele can be concluded in four court sessions, which would ensure that a prolonged trial would not overshadow several major initiatives to give a new impetus to spreading the Catholic faith that the Pope has planned in the coming days and weeks. Next Sunday, 7 October, he will open a major Synod aimed at re-launching the New Evangelisation then five days later he will lead celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. He will also declare a church-wide "Year of Faith" on 11 October, the date the Council was convened in 1962.
The VatiLeaks trial is being conducted according to the procedures of an Italian penal code from 1913 that, apparently, is no longer in use anywhere except at the Vatican. Three Italian Catholic magistrates are presiding over the proceedings, led by Judge Dalla Torre who also serves as rector of a private Catholic university near St Peter's Square and is lieutenant general of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. His two assistants are Paolo Papanti Pelletier and Venerdando Marano.
The Vatican is calling this a "public" trial, but it has admitted very few people into the courtroom and only after carefully screening them. The press has been allotted only eight seats, which will be rotated between international journalists accredited to the Holy See press office. TV cameras and all recording devices have been strictly forbidden. The written transcripts of the proceedings will not immediately be made public either.
The Vatican has consistently given conflicting information about the "VatiLeaks" investigation, despite insisting it is trying to be transparent. For months it remained adamant that Mr Gabriele was the only suspect in the case, but on 13 August it released a 30-page dossier revealing -- among other things -- that Mr Sciarpelletti had also been arrested and briefly detained in late May. The dossier also unveiled that the former butler admitted to appearing disguised on an Italian television programme in which he said "some 20 or so" people inside the Vatican were involved in leaking documents to the press.
The leaked documents show a culture of corruption, careerism and infighting inside the Roman Curia, a body constituted mainly of hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals who oversee the Catholic Church's bureaucratic centre.
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