08.13.12

Vatileaks: Did the Pope’s Butler Have Help?

An indictment published by the Vatican on Monday indicates that a computer technician may have protected the pope’s former butler, who stands accused of leaking papal documents.

The pope’s erstwhile butler—Paolo Gabriele—will not be pardoned, the Vatican said on Monday, and instead will face a three-judge Vatican tribunal for allegedly stealing papal documents and leaking them to an Italian journalist. Yet in a surprise twist, in a 60-page indictment, which the Holy See published on Monday, the Vatican accused a second man--Claudio Sciarpelletti, a 48-year old computer technician--of aiding Gabriele by obstructing justice.

The two will be codefendants some time this fall. The date of the trial, which the Vatican says will be open to the press, will be set after September 20, when the Vatican’s judicial offices reopen following a summer recess, though a Vatican spokesman speculated that it will begin in October and last just a few days.

The surprise announcement in what’s known as the Vatileaks scandal underscores the Holy See’s ongoing ability to keep a secret, despite apparent fractures in the church’s once-impenetrable shield. For months, the Italian press has speculated that bishops, cardinals and nuns had served as Gabriele’s alleged accomplices. But no one had even heard of Sciarpelletti until Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi announced his alleged involvement at a press briefing on Monday.

Lombardi said Sciarpelletti was arrested just two days after Gabriele late last May. Investigators said he was a close friend of Gabriele’s, and that he had documents in his Vatican apartment, which were published in a book called His Holiness by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi. Yet Greg Burke, a former Fox News correspondent who was hired as a media consultant by the Vatican this summer told The Daily Beast that Sciarpelletti became a suspect not because of what was in the envelope, but because he changed his story three times, causing investigators to think that he may have been protecting the butler.

Sciarpelletti, who worked in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State offices, held a trusted position that would have certainly afforded him access to a cache of papal documents. Whether he helped Gabriele reproduce and disseminate the documents that ended up in Nuzzi’s hands, or if he simply did nothing to stop the leaks, will be examined in the trial this fall, according to the case’s chief prosecutor. Either way, Vatican insiders say his charges are minor and it’s unlikely he’ll serve time, even if he’s convicted.

The Vatican indictment, which at times reads like an Italian version of a Dan Brown novel, includes several references to Gabriele’s confession along with surprising new details: how Vatican police found a nugget of gold and a 16th- century original of Virgil’s epic poem, The Aeneid, in the butler’s private apartment, along with a check for €100,000 from a Spanish school made out in the pope’s name.

The document also outlined results from a variety of psychological exams conducted during the investigation, which paint a disturbing portrait of one of the pope’s most trusted aides. Apparently ill-equipped for the stress of the job as the pope’s right-hand man, two separate experts described the butler as needy beyond the norm, determining that he suffered from a variety of complex emotional disorders that prohibited him from keeping to his tasks as butler, and instead gave him a false sense of superiority. “His inability to stick to specific duties was compromised by his personal concept of justice and moral rigidity,” wrote one of the psychological experts who examined Gabriele. “This gave him perceived power to create assessments, comments and inappropriate behavior beyond his institutional role.”

The surprise announcement in what’s known as the Vatileaks scandal underscores the Holy See’s ongoing ability to keep a secret, despite apparent fractures in the church’s once-impenetrable shield.

According to the document, Gabriele supposedly admitted his mistakes, and told investigators that he had felt guided by God when he first decided to start leaking documents to Nuzzi. Then, fueled by what he felt was God’s will, he couldn’t stop. “I reached a point of no return,” he told investigators, according to the document. “I was sure that a shock, perhaps by using the media, would be a healthy tool to bring the church back on the right track.”

Gabriele’s lawyers, who were appointed by the Vatican, say their client is remorseful for his actions against the pontiff. But Burke told The Daily Beast that the butler’s actions are hardly consistent with someone who had the church’s best interests at heart. “It’s odd that someone who considers himself a special agent of the Holy Spirit was stealing boxloads of documents from the papal apartments,” he said.

For his part Nuzzi, the primary recipient of the leaked documents, scoffs at the Vatican’s theory that the butler did it, telling The Daily Beast: “This is classic Vatican smoke and mirrors.”

Gabriele is still collecting his salary, and is currently living under house arrest, living with his wife and children within the confines of Vatican City. He has not spoken publicly since he was arrested in May.