Pope Benedict XVI

New trial in Vatican scandal offers insider look at Holy See's workings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 2:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 2:43pm


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The trial this week of a Vatican computer whiz over his alleged role in an embarrassing scandal of filched confidential papal documents is offering a chance for an insider glimpse at the Holy See’s security workings.

Among those expected to testify in the trial, which begins on Monday in a Vatican City tribunal, are the pope’s top bodyguard, a commander of the legendary Swiss Guards and a Vatican security official connected to an Italian company with expertise in detecting eavesdropping devices.

Also on the witness list is Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict’s former butler who is serving an 18-month prison sentence at the Vatican. It will be Gabriele’s first opportunity for public comment since the Holy See tribunal convicted him last month of stealing the pontiff’s private letters and leaking them to an Italian journalist in one of the worst breaches of Vatican security in recent memory.

The leaks exposed infighting among Vatican bureaucrats, intrigue and allegations of corruption.

Claudio Sciarpelletti, a 48-year-old computer programming analyst in the powerful office of Secretariat of State, was originally supposed to be tried with Gabriele earlier this autumn. But his lawyer succeeded in having his client tried separately. Sciarpelletti is charged with aiding and abetting Gabriele.

The judge at the first trial, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, will also conduct Sciarpelletti’s trial.

Lawyer Gianluca Benedetti has said that his client is innocent and insisted that there were no confidential documents in a sealed envelope that Vatican police said was found in Sciarpelletti’s desk. The envelope, according to the indictment, was marked “Personal P. Gabriele”.

Vatican prosecutors had originally sought indictment of Sciarpelletti on charges of revealing secrets and grand theft. But a Vatican judge denied that request, ordering a trial only on the lesser charge of aiding and abetting.

As in Gabriele’s trial, no video, audio or still camera coverage is allowed for this latest trial. A pool of reporters is permitted to follow the trial inside the courtroom and will later brief fellow journalists accredited with the Holy See’s press room.

Sciarpelletti’s office was searched in late May, shortly after Gabriele’s arrest, and the computer expert spent a night in a Vatican holding cell, only to be quickly released.

For months, the Vatican had insisted that Gabriele was the only suspect in the probe, even though Sciarpelletti, an Italian citizen, had been arrested and questioned. Sciarpelletti’s brief jailing became known only when the indictment came down in August.

Vatican officials have never explained why they did not reveal Sciarpelletti’s alleged involvement earlier. They alleged that he played a minor role in the case.

The indictment request said Vatican police described Sciarpelletti as being “contradictory and reticent” when questioned. The alleged discrepancies included Sciarpelletti’s descriptions of how well he knew Gabriele and whether the former butler had given him the envelope.

Among other witnesses expected to be called is a monsignor who is the nephew of a veteran Vatican diplomat now serving as papal ambassador to the United States. The veteran diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, had been No. 2 administrator of the Vatican city-state until being posted in Washington earlier this year.

According to one of the letters allegedly spirited out of the Vatican by Gabriele, Vigano had begged Benedict not to be transferred after exposing corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts that cost the Holy See millions.