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11.10.12

Claudio Sciarpelletti Found Guilty of Abetting Vatican Thief

A Holy See employee has been convicted of helping the pope's butler steal from his private desk.

In a case that feels increasingly like a game of Clue, a Vatican tribunal on Saturday found a second Vatican employee guilty of a crime involving the theft of sensitive documents from Pope Benedict XVI’s private desk.

Last month, it was Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s erstwhile butler, who was sentenced to 18 months in jail for stealing secret papers from Benedict's private desk and leaking them to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi who published them in a bestselling book, His Holiness. Now the same court has found Gabriele’s cohort, Claudio Sciarpelletti, guilty of obstructing justice and helping the butler with the theft.

The court heard testimony from the butler, a monsignor, a Vatican gendarme, and a Swiss guard who spoke about secret envelopes and embossing stamps, offering a rare peek into one of the most shrouded institutions in the world. But the conviction only adds another layer of mystery to the complicated case, in which the focus has been on the mechanics of the leak—not on who inside the Vatican may have instigated what the Vatican’s own spokesman dubbed Vatileaks.

After deliberating just over an hour, the Vatican court convicted Sciarpelletti, 48, of obstruction of justice and abetting the theft, and gave him a two-month suspended sentence.  Sciarpelletti had worked as a technology specialist in the Vatican’s secretariat of state for two decades, handling some of the most sensitive documents in the Holy See. During the investigation into who leaked documents to the Italian journalist, Vatican investigators discovered an envelope in the technician’s desk with Gabriele’s name on it. During testimony, Sciarpelletti confirmed that it was his handwriting on the envelope, but he insisted that he had no recollection whatsoever of how the documents came into his possession or how they got into the envelope he had written Gabriele’s name on. When he was initially questioned last June about why he had the envelope, however, Sciarpelletti told detectives at least three different versions of just how the materials came into his possession. The documents included letters, small books, and emails, including one signed with the pseudonym “nuvole” or cloud.

The presiding judge has been very careful not to let testimony betray the Holy See’s secrecy.

On Saturday, Gabriele, who has been taken off house-arrest and who is now serving his sentence in a Vatican cell, gave damning evidence against his one-time friend and confidante. The former butler confirmed to the judge that he had given Sciarpelletti the documents, but that he had not placed them in an envelope. Scairpelletti said that because he had never had any dealings with law enforcement he was stressed and in a state of shock when he was questioned, which is why he seemingly misled the investigators. 

During Saturday’s hearing, evidence about a second envelope was briefly introduced. The envelope, which had been given to Sciarpelletti by one Monsignor Piero Benaccini, contained other documents that allegedly found their way into Nuzzi’s book. But the presiding judge, who has been very careful not to let testimony betray the Holy See’s secrecy, immediately halted the testimony and ruled the second secret envelope “inadmissible.” After the sentencing, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi dismissed claims that the second envelope may have led to who was really behind the leaks. “Sciarpelletti worked in an office where envelopes are circulated,” he told reporters. “There is no great conspiracy here.”

Gabriele, who is not appealing his conviction, was hoping for a papal pardon by now, and Pope Benedict XVI has been increasingly friendly to his former butler, giving him a blessed prayer book and a letter, though he has stopped short of total forgiveness. The Vatican’s Secretary of State Tarciso Bertone, on the other hand, who was seen as the victim of most of the leaks, bypassed the Vatican’s press machine and issued his own damning press release last week stating why Gabriele should spend his sentence in jail and why he should not yet be pardoned.

After the sentencing, Lombardi said the case would continue to be investigated, but few believe any more arrests will come to light—at least not in the public eye. However, Vatican expert Marco Politi says the case of the butler and his friend are only the beginning of the story. “The message of both trials is not to discover really what were the connections between the people involved or whether there were supporters or accomplices to the crime,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s finished, but it still remains like an immovable rock obstructing the facts.”