When Vatican Judge Piero Antonio Bonnet last week delivered his verdict on the whodunit that has rocked the Catholic Church for the past few months, there was no surprise about who was responsible.
It was the butler, of course. But what the so-called Vatileaks scandal revealed about the internal political divisions within the Vatican and its external relations with the Italian government and indeed others has shaken the institution to its core.
“Very little of Vatican politics is conducted in an open way,” said professor James Walston from the American University in Rome. “What we have in this case is finance and politics and succession — the only thing we are missing is s-x.”
We now know that Paolo Gabriele, the 46-year-old father of three, stole, copied and leaked Pope Benedict XVI’s private correspondence and other documents to an Italian reporter in the greatest breach of secrecy seen at the Vatican in centuries.
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Since his arrest in May, that has been no secret. In fact Gabriele told investigators himself that he passed some 37 documents to the journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published actual copies of the documents in his explosive book, Your Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI.
The leaked correspondence includes highly confidential letters such as the one from Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano, former Secretary-General of the Vatican Governate who complained of financial irregularities before being he was dispatched to Washington as papal nuncio.
What the book really exposed was the bitter internal divisions within the Vatican particularly between the administrative arm of the Holy See, the Curia, and the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Pope Benedict XVI is left looking like a hapless victim of the fierce political battles that are raging around him.
“The Pope is not a politician,” Walston told Crikey. “He is not very bright and he was promoted beyond his abilities. When you have a lot of very sharp people around, they have a field day. Look at George W Bush.”
Gabriele is to be sent for trial before a panel of three Vatican judges on charges of grand theft and could face up to six years in jail. But in another twist, Judge Bonnet for the first time named an accomplice, Vatican computer expert Claudio Sciarpelletti, and ordered him to also stand trial on a lesser charge of aiding and abetting Gabriele, for holding stolen correspondence on behalf of the butler.
Still it was remarkable about how much of the judge’s report was devoted to explaining the motivation and psychological state of a man who spent five years loyally flanking the Pope inside and outside the Vatican.
According to the 35-page document, Gabriele told investigators he believed the Vatican was plagued by evil and corruption and he thought the Pope had little idea of how bad the situation was inside the tiny city state. But we also learnt that he pocketed gifts to the Pope including a cheque for €100,000, a gold nugget and a precious 16th-century copy of the Latin poem the Aeneid. They were among the booty found in the butler’s apartment. “I reached the point of no return and could not control myself any more,” Gabriele told investigators.
Yet as the Vatican announced the two men would be sent to trial on a date to be fixed in late September or early October, the judgment appeared to dispense with the unfolding scandal without fully exploring Gabriele’s behaviour or his allies within the Vatican.
Father Thomas J. Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Centre at Georgetown University in Washington DC, told Crikey that the judge’s decision raised more questions that it answers.
“We now know that the butler claims to have acted for the good of the church, but the fact that he also stole a check for €100,000, a rare book and a gold nugget ruins his credibility,” said Father Reese, former editor of the Vatican magazine, America. “He stole not just documents but also a cheque and valuable property. What else did he steal? Has the Vatican checked his bank accounts for unusual deposits?”
We do not know. But the Vatican gave us elaborate details from two independent psychologists who described as Gabriele’s “fragile personality” and “paranoid tendencies”, something one Vatican insider said “describes half the people in the Vatican”.
The judge’s findings revealed the butler had also shared the stolen documents with an unidentified “spiritual father”, perhaps a priest to whom he confessed, who is said to have burnt the documents that he witnessed.
But on the final page of the judge’s decision there are other mysterious characters named only as W and Y who are also implicated in the scandal and whose role has not been fully explained.
“Magistrates do not believe they have finished their investigations,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. “This is a partial conclusion.”
Perhaps it is in the Vatican’s interest to present Gabriele as a deluded fool because it may not look good if the Pope had actually hired a madman. But this approach may also give Gabriele — and the Vatican — a credible defence and a way of sweeping the matter away unless it can prove it is really serious about getting to the bottom of the scandal.
“It would be terrible if the Pope pardoned the butler before the trial,” Father Reese said. “There must be a trial so that all the information gets out, otherwise we will have to live with conspiracy theories for decades.”