The Pope’s former butler has gone on trial in the Vatican, accused of stealing confidential data. But the defendant may only be a pawn in an unseemly struggle between power-hungry cardinals and God’s Bankers that the Vatican would rather keep quiet.
Paolo Gabriele – the man once affectionately known as Paoletto, who spent more time than anyone else with Pope Benedict XVI since his election in 2005 – sat fidgeting in the dock, giving only the occasional forced smile.
The charge sheet against him makes for impressive reading.
Gabriele is accused not only of stealing documents (82 boxes of them were reportedly taken from his flat by the police), but also a series of personal possessions – a check for €100,000 made out to Benedict, a gold nugget, and a 16th century edition of the Latin poem The Aeneid.
But it is the Pope’s private communiqués – or rather what he did with them – that have made Gabriele responsible for the biggest scandal to rock the Holy See in decades.
For several months leading up to Gabriele’s arrest in May, Gianluigi Nuzzi, a prominent investigative journalist, began publishing shocking revelations about the Vatican. They contained precise inside information he acquired from a source known only as “Maria.”
The Vatileaks – as they were instantly dubbed – gave an insight of the inner workings of one of the world’s most secretive institutions. The detailed exposés described rival churchmen sparking homosexual smear campaigns against each other and improper payments made to contractors. They showed numerous blocked reforms aimed at transforming the Vatican Bank – a body already notorious for its lack of transparency.
Pope Benedict was portrayed as a frail, indecisive, and remote leader who was focused on the spiritual side of affairs, but unable to see the earthly misdeeds around him. Meanwhile, the main villain appeared to be Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone – the administrative head of the Vatican. Bertone has become increasingly powerful as his superior’s health has weakened.
Gabriele, who did not enter a plea at the initial hearing, does not deny that he was Nuzzi’s source. He says he acted as an “agent of the Holy Spirit,” set out on exposing “the Kingdom of Hypocrisy” which the Vatican had become.
Yet few believed that “Maria” was just a single person. In an interview following Gabriele’s arrest, he confirmed that there were “around 20 others” in his ring.
One suspected whistleblower is Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. The Vatican’s top banker was brought to the fold to make the God’s Bank comply with international regulations, was abruptly dismissed in June. Gotti Tedeschi was officially sacked for dereliction of duty, but at the time said that he “paid for his transparency.”
Weeks after he left, European banking watchdog Moneyval said the bank once again failed to comply with international transparency rules. The firm said the bank was “deficient in reporting suspicious transactions” and “ill-equipped to deal with financial crime.”
Happy Days: Paulo Gabriele (bottom-left) Georg Gaenswein and Benedict riding the Popemobile.(Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi)
Keeping it in the house
But for all the revelations and the fallout, the Vatican’s investigators placed all the blame on the shoulders of one man.
Italian newspapers, which placed the story on their front pages, hope the hearing will be more than just a recollection of how Gabriele acquired the documents. They hope the trial will shed more light on the presumed conspirers, and whether they were driven by moral desires or locked in a power struggle – particularly as various factions jockey for influence ahead of an eventual Papal succession.
But the Vatican is unlikely to give them this satisfaction.
A special investigation launched by the Pope himself (whom Gabriele believes to have been “deceived” by his associates) and headed by several cardinals was supposed to discover the intimate details of the conspiracy and its revelations. But despite requests from the defense, the judge threw out the findings of the commission, and said the trial would proceed simply on the forensic facts uncovered by the Vatican’s police force.
Among the more notable witnesses will be Georg Gänswein, the Pope’s dapper personal secretary and close ally. Gänswein is famously reluctant to air his views in public, but may be forced to, since Gabriele was his direct subordinate throughout the affair.
The Vatican does not seem to want any more publicity. In fact, its own newspapers made no mention that the trial was even happening. Only ten outside journalists were allowed in the courtroom, and no cameras were permitted. Journalists’ personal pens were replaced with court-issued ballpoints, in case they contained recording devices.
Although he wasn’t present in the courtroom, Gianluigi Nuzzi made a show of support for his source, tweeting “Good luck, brave Paoletto, we won’t leave you on your own.”
Some have cast doubt on the integrity of the judging panel, which can sentence Gabriele for up to four years in prison for “aggravated theft.” The Pope is not just the defendant in the case – he is also the absolute monarch of Vatican and the head of its judicial branch.
Most Italian Papal commentators believe the hand-picked panel will show clemency to Gabriele, who has personally written to the Pope for forgiveness. Many speculate the court will pardon him outright, mostly to put an end to the stream of revelations.
The presiding judge says the verdict may be delivered as early as next week, but the truth about the entirety of what has been happening at the Holy See for the past year may take a while longer to emerge – if it ever does at all.
Igor Ogorodnev, RT
Only ten reporters were allowed in the courtroom.(Reuters / Osservatore Romano)