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Pope’s butler could face four years in jail

By and on Friday, 28 September 2012

The courtroom in which former papal butler Paolo Gabriele will stand trial (Photo: CNS)

The courtroom in which former papal butler Paolo Gabriele will stand trial (Photo: CNS)

The trial of Paolo Gabriele and Claudio Sciarpelletti for their alleged part in leaking papal correspondence may lead the Vatican to invoke a never-used cooperation agreement with Italy.

Giovanni Giacobbe, promoter of justice in the Court of Appeal of Vatican City State, told reporters that criminal trials at the Vatican are “extremely” rare, and the only thing remotely similar was a trial for drug possession about 10 years ago.

If the two men are found guilty and are sentenced to jail, they will serve that time in an Italian prison under the terms of a decades-old Italian-Vatican agreement that has never been used, Mr Giacobbe said. Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981, was handed over to Italian police and found guilty in an Italian court, not a Vatican court.

Mr Gabriele, who was arrested in May after Vatican police found papal correspondence and other items in his Vatican apartment, faces a charge of aggravated theft, which carries a possible sentence of up to four years. Mr Sciarpelletti, who had a copy of a document from Mr Gabriele in his desk at the Vatican Secretariat of State, was charged with aiding and abetting him. He faces up to one year in prison.

The judge said Mr Gabriele’s innocence or guilt will have to be determined first because Mr Sciarpelletti cannot be tried for aiding and abetting if the original act is not determined to be a crime.

He said there was no way to predict how long the trial would last, although an indication could come from the first session when the prosecution and defence teams make motions, declare whether or not they will contest any of the evidence gathered by Vatican investigators and whether or not they will call more witnesses.

The fact that Mr Gabriele has admitted to investigators that he took the material and shared it with an Italian journalist does not constitute absolute proof, and the judges cannot base their judgment solely on the confession, he said.

At one time, he said, “a Confession was known as the ‘queen of all proofs’,” but most legal experts recognise that confessions can be coerced or that defendants may confess to protect another person.

The responsibility of the judges hearing the trial,he said, is to determine whether the evidence supports Mr Gabriele’s confession.

He said the confession could “facilitate the trial”, making it go more smoothly, and if the accused confesses or expresses repentance and contrition then the judge “will take that into consideration” during sentencing.

He said the practice of beginning a trial with a defendant entering a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty” does not exist in Vatican or Italian trials. Also, under Vatican law, a defendant is not asked to take an oath before testifying “like on Perry Mason”, he said.

The accused has every right to “say things that are false in order to defend himself” and not incriminate himself, the judge said.

In addition, h said, the defendant cannot represent himself. He is asked to choose his own lawyer, and if he hasn’t, one is appointed for him by a Vatican judge.

However, the accused has a right not to attend the trial, having a lawyer represent him instead. “He is free” to decide to not show up and face questioning because the trial’s aim is to safeguard the rights of the accused, Mr Giacobbe said.

The trial is designed to substantiate, “verify”, flesh out or contest information gathered in the preliminary investigation, he said.

Gianluigi Nuzzi, the Italian journalist who published secret papal documents allegedly received from Gabriele, is not subject to a Vatican criminal investigation because that potential crime occurred on Italian territory and therefore the Vatican has no jurisdiction there, he said.

Mr Gabriele is being accused of theft even though the bulk of sensitive documents he had in his possession were photocopies and not the originals; the judge said making copies of materials accessed illicitly is still a form of stealing.

Vatican trials are usually held on a Saturday because the Vatican judges and prosecutors all work Monday through Friday as Italian lawyers or judges or as professors in Italian universities, Mr Giacobbe said. However, more complex cases will run into the working week, he added.

Vatican judges usually try about 30 cases a year, and the overwhelming majority of them involve “petty crimes” like pickpocketing and usually finish quickly and simply.

The trial of a Vatican employee for possessing 87 grams of cocaine in 2007 was the biggest case they have had in recent memory, he said. There was no trial for the double murder-suicide of a Swiss Guard in 1998 because “the suspect killed himself”, and charges were never brought against the woman who attacked the Pope during the Christmas liturgy in 2009 because of mental illness.

The judge said the final verdicts will require a majority vote, not a unanimous decision, among the three judges.

If the three-judge panel finds the defendants not guilty, the Vatican prosecutor can appeal against the judgment, just as the defendants can appeal a guilty sentence.

The Pope, like many heads of state, has the power to grant clemency at any time to anyone found guilty. While he also has the power to close a case before a trial is scheduled, the Pope cannot intervene once a trial starts.

  • Cafeteria R.C.

    He will be found guilty but will be pardoned by the pope. What Vatican powers are really after are the nuts and bolts behind this crime inside the Vatican state borders as we on the outside of the Vatican state borders are left in the dark except for what the RCC wants us to know.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    This trial is a scandal, a blot on the history of the Church. We should be ashamed that the Pope even has a butler, (could you imagine one of the Apostles with a butler?) but putting him on trial for copying some documents is outrageous.

  • JabbaPapa


    Are you real ???

    Theft is a crime, just for your information.

  • JabbaPapa

    bla bla bla bla bla AKA the usual mélange of vacuousness, superciliousness, and arrogance from café RC

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal


  • Cafeteria R.C.

    JabbaPapa, forgive and forget. What would Christ do? Where is your heart?

  • Lewispbuckingham

     I suppose he could have driven them out with a whip,his heart being angry.

  • Patrickhowes

    I agree especially as noy one of the serial sexual abusers was ever out on trial!

  • daclamat

    Why on earth does rhe poor man expect a fair trial? Three Cardinals have already told the pope what happened, and a judge has ruled that they’re not allowed to know this. Does the Vatican belong to the European Union? Or the UN? Has it signed the declaration on human rights? Only asking!

  • Damon

    Do you expect the Pope, an 85-year-old man, to do his own cooking, cleaning and washing? Isn’t he better employed in religious duties? Christ and the Apostles certainly had help from other people.

  • Damon

     I rather hope it hasn’t – the declaration of human rights does nothing for people’s rights.

  • Damon

     You’re not a priest.

  • Guest686

    Apparently 82 boxes of papers were removed. The true and complete story of the so called corruption and evil will only come out many years from now when the current pope dies. I am neutral in all this but It might also be a sabotage attempt to prevent Cardinal Bertone from becoming the next Pope? That place seemd full of intrigue but disputes between different factions of government are perfectly normal.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    “I agree especially as noy one of the serial sexual abusers was ever out on trial!”



  • Sweetjae

    Crime is a crime besides it was the civil authorities who pursued this case.
    I don’t have any problem with the pope having a butler. The 12 Apostles
    themselves inluding St. Paul had personal assistant and secretaries. Mind you
    the modern day Apostles specially the Office of Peter have to look over 1.3
    BILLION members.


    Probably you would complain handling 10 people in your  company without an
    assistant, how about 250,000 priests, religious brothers-sisters, 5,000 Bishops,
    Archbishops, Eastern Patriachs and 1,300,000,000 people all over the

  • Sweetjae

    Of course a good catholic can forgive but the perpetrator of the crime has to still answer for his crime. The same doctrine could be said of Purgatory, the sins are forgiven but still have to undergo the penalty (Justice) due to the sin.

  • Sweetjae

    The guy self-confessed about his crime and the hard evidences were found in his house, a crime is a crime, what human rights are you talking about?

  • Guest686

    Reply to Fr. Thomas… wishful thinking dear rev. fr. Vatican will never be dismantled. It will be destroyed at the end of the world (rapture?) and the last Pope will return the keys of Saint Peter to Jesus Christ in the sky to show that he has kept the faith as St. Paul exhorted us to do.

  • Parasum

     I had to laugh when I saw that :)