In one of the most bizarre stories to come out of the Vatican in years, Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, went on trial Saturday for the aggravated theft of the pope’s confidential papers. Gabriele subsequently leaked the papers to the press causing an unprecedented breach of security at one of the most secretive places on earth. Ultimately, the breach led to the publishing of a tell all book, His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Pope Benedict XVI by Italian journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi. The butler was arrested back in May and was briefly held by authorities before being released into house arrest. He was formally indicted in August after a full investigation into the charges.
Interestingly, despite a full confession and admission of guilt by Gabriele, the trial must continue since there is no plea bargaining under Vatican law, and judges must independently verify the facts of a case. The trial will take place at a secular court in Vatican City made up of a three judge panel and presided over by the tribunal’s president, Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre. Gabriele is expected to take the stand at a hearing this Tuesday followed by at least eight other witnesses over the coming days. If convicted, he faces up to four years which he would have to serve in an Italian prison. The Vatican does not have a prison of its own. However, it is widely believed that if he is convicted, the pope would grant him a pardon.
Gabriele claims he stole and leaked the papers because he saw “evil and corruption everywhere in the church” which he believed must be exposed because the pope “was not correctly informed” about what was going on. The shock of public exposure, he thought, “could be a healthy thing to put the church back on the right track.”
Some of the leaked documents opened scandalous doors into questionable administrative practices as well as inner wrangling at the Vatican. Among the documents were letters written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in which he openly worried that he had made enemies within the Curia and beyond after rooting out corruption and financial mismanagement in the Vatican City administration. Then the second-ranking official in the part of the Curia that administers Vatican City, Archbishop Viganò asked in the letters to be allowed to continue cleaning up the Holy See’s financial affairs. Instead, he was removed from his post and named the papal nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States.
This is the highest-profile court case in years to take place in a tribunal that has preserved the procedures of a 19th-century Italian penal code and handles only a few dozen cases a year, most of them insignificant.
The most interesting thing I got from reading this article is that Vatican law does not allow for plea bargains. Does this seem odd to anyone else? Is the Vatican not concerned with judicial economy? Perhaps it is a non-issue for them since they only try a few insignificant cases a year. Does requiring a court to independently verify facts before rendering a verdict insure justice for defendants or does it simply deplete Vatican resources unnecessarily?