VATICAN CITY — A Vatican court on Saturday (Oct. 6) sentenced Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler to 18 months in jail for stealing the pontiff’s private papers and leaking them to the press.
The butler, Paolo Gabriele, stood motionless as the tribunal’s president, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, read the sentence in the tiny courtroom of the world’s smallest state.
The conviction comes after an unprecedented weeklong trial, and could mark the end of the Vatileaks scandal that embarrassed the Vatican with allegations of corruption and infighting within the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that there is a “very concrete” possibility that the pope will pardon his former aide, but the timing for such a decision is still unknown.
Gabriele is now back under house arrest in the Vatican home where he lives with his wife and three children. His lawyer, Cristiana Arru, said the sentence was “balanced” and that Gabriele would not appeal.
The pope’s butler, tasked with serving the pontiff’s meals and arranging his clothes among other duties, was arrested on May 23 after dozens of confidential Vatican papers — some in the pope’s own handwriting — were leaked to the press. The documents were mostly published in journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi’s best-selling book “Sua Santita,” or “His Holiness.”
In his final statement in front of the court, Gabriele pleaded innocent of the theft charges leveled against him, saying that he had acted out of “visceral love” for the church and the pope.
Vatican prosecutor Nicola Picardi had asked for a three-year jail term for Gabriele. He had also requested that the tribunal bar him from any Vatican job that entailed any “use of power.” The request was ignored by the Vatican tribunal.
Arru had asked for the theft charge to be converted to one of “misappropriation,” a crime that would have allowed the former butler to escape jail time.
During her closing arguments, Arru highlighted several flaws in the Vatican police’s investigation of Gabriele. In a previous hearing, she had alleged that Benedict’s former assistant has been mistreated during his first weeks in jail, leading the Vatican to open an official inquiry.
After two hours of deliberations by the three-judge panel, Dalla Torre read the sentence “in the name of Pope Benedict XVI, gloriously reigning.” He invoked the “Most Holy Trinity” before declaring Gabriele guilty of theft.
Dalla Torre explained that the original three-year jail term was reduced to 18 months in light of the former butler’s clean criminal record and of his admission of having betrayed the pope’s trust.
Lombardi stressed that the three Vatican judges are “totally independent” of church authority and that they hadn’t received any pressure from the Vatican secretary of state.
But according to Ignazio Ingrao, a Vatican expert with the Italian newsweekly Panorama, the tribunal “didn’t show much determination in discovering the network” that fed Gabriele with documents from across the Vatican, not just from the papal apartments.
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