Paolo Gabriele, the Pope’s butler accused of stealing and leaking documents from the Apostolic Palace and His Holiness’ Secretariat of State, will be tried as a criminal. But the real news is that there is one more person who will also face criminal proceedings: Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer specialist working at the Vatican Secretariat of State. Never before was the name of Claudio Sciarpelletti mentioned as part of the investigation. This discretion means that the preliminary investigation was lead prudently and meticulously. Probably, nobody would have ever known about the arrest and the preliminary investigation on Paolo Gabriele either, if his name had not been made public by the press, and the Holy See had to confirm that the butler had indeed been arrested. This should not be interpreted as the Vatican trying to keep its internal affairs secret. It has more to do with the need of conducting the investigations with the maximum accuracy. As we have now become accustomed to newspapers publishing intercepted telephone and other conversations during investigation and to pre-trial leaks, we seem to have forgotten that an investigation can be effective only if it is conducted most discreetly. There is no doubt that the Pope wants to get the situation sorted out. And – albeit Paolo Gabriele sent a letter asking Benedict XVI for forgiveness – the Pontiff will not to grant a pardon before the trial, which will be held probably in October.
That the investigation on Vatileaks was in some ways negatively affected by publicity around Paolo Gabriele’s arrest has become evident in the last two months. During the sixty days of imprisonment, the Pope’s butler has been interrogated several times, and sometimes these questionings have lasted many hours. Gabriele was also questioned at length by the three cardinals of the Commission the Pope appointed to shed light on the leaks of documents covered by professional secrecy. The investigative process was far from easy. There were many attempts to throw the investigation off track. These attempts – perhaps instigated by the accomplices of the butler – sought to delegitimize the investigation and undermine the Roman Curia.
The media complicity
An accurate analysis of these red herring campaigns reveal a certain connivance between the media and the Pope’s unfaithful butler. At least one journalist was questioned by the Cardinal Commission. It is said that this same journalist used to meet Paolo Gabriele in Switzerland, where they exchanged documents. This journalist is not Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book Sua Santità lead to the investigation that unmasked Gabriele’s dealings – even if the source named «Maria» refers to several people involved in leaking Vatican documents. Long before the publication of the book, there were rumors among the journalists of «a certain exchange of information» that was «managed» by a famous journalist who would help other colleagues become part of the arrangement. This peculiar «information exchange» revealed itself in very similar articles published almost concurrently on Italian newspapers. These articles dealt with «external situations» – e.g. the revocation of the excommunication of the bishops of the Priest Fraternity of San Pius X (the so-called Lefevbrists) – and «internal situations» – criticism of Card. Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, for allegedly wanting to take the control of the Roman Curia (despite the fact that doing so would be within his responsibility). This is the media environment in which news about the “complicity” of the butler was revealed.
The red herrings
Right after the butler’s arrest, some journalist gave credence to the theory that Gabriele was not the «crow», or at least was just «one of the crows», and was made a scapegoat. This theory was supported with the publication of a blackmailing letter. The letter threatened to make public a document signed by Msgr. Georg Gaenswein, the Pope’s personal secretary, if the Pope did not fire him and Secretary of State Bertone, the Pope’s closest collaborator. Benedict XVI promptly reacted, publicly renewing his confidence in both. In the meantime, investigators pieced together information gathered from Paolo Gabriele’s smartphone and the documents found in his house in establishing the picture of Paolo Gabriele’s betrayal.
In July, the rope was tightening as the last interrogations took place. It was then that in Germany and after that in Italy three of the longest-standing Papal collaborators were described as the butler’s masters. The collaborators accused were: Card. Paolo Sardi, formerly responsible for the section of the Secretariat of State that collaborates in drafting the Papal speeches; Ms. Ingrid Stampa, an official of that same section and previously the secretary of Cardinal Ratzinger, who is responsible for the translation into Italian of the books by the Pope; and the bishop Josef Clemens, Gaenswein’s predecessor in the post of personal secretary of the later Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
«These accusations are completely baseless», the Vatican Secretariat of State commented in a strong declaration. In fact, this was another red herring, maybe introduced by Gabriele himself. Gabriele was probably suggested those names after they appeared in articles in the German newspaper Die Welt and the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. These newspapers also stated investigators found several texts sent from Gabriele’s smartphone to Ingrid Stampa’s cell phone.
The investigation has not come to an end
The Vatican investigators still have much work to do. The trial will not be the end. Big news is that the trial will not only involve the Papal butler, but also Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer specialist at the Secretariat of State. Sciarpelletti was imprisoned for just one day (the night of May 25, two days after Paolo Gabriele’s arrest), then conditionally released and finally completely freed. He will be tried for abetment. Sciarpelletti’s role is not that of an accomplice, but the Vatican magistrate decided to take him to trial because of his inconsistencies during questionings. Paolo Gabriele – caught in flagrante delicto – is in a different position. But everything needs to be brought to light.
The indictment by the Vatican Promoter of Justice (the public prosecutor) Nicola Picardi – which is incorporated by the work of examining magistrate Bonnet – sheds to light more details of a scenario that is far from complete. In presenting the documents, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, underlined that «the Vatican Magistrate’s Office wants to underline that this is a partial conclusion of the inquiry regarding the criminal charge of aggravated theft against Paolo Gabriele and everything linked to this crime.» It is just a «partial conclusion» because the Vatican Magistrate’s Office received many reports with different allegations. So it wanted to start first with Paolo Gabriele, the clearest investigative path.
The meetings of the Pontifical Family
The two documents taken together – the indictment and the judgment – provide a detailed timeline of how the magistrate reached the decision to arrest Gabriele. The names of all the witnesses are kept secret for privacy, except that of Msgr. Georg Gaenswein. Gaenswein had a meeting on May 21 with the members of the pontifical family: the other Papal Secretary, Msgr. Alfred Xuereb; the four Memores Domini that serve in the papal apartment; the Pope’s collaborator Birgit Wansing; and Paolo Gabriele. During this meeting, Gaenswein asked if anyone had leaked reserved internal documents, allowing whomever was responsible to speak up. Another meeting of this tenor was held on May 23. Gabriele’s attitude was cold – Gaenswein told the magistrate – in denying to be the leaker. The butler kept on denying even when Gaenswein proved that Gabriele was the only person who could have leaked two of the documents published in the book Sua Santità. When questioned by the magistrate, Gabriele declared that he denied any involvement because his spiritual father recommended him to admit only to the Pope what he did.
A mysterious spiritual father
This spiritual father seems to be a very peculiar person. Is it the person that granted an anonymous press interview a few days after Gabriele’s arrest, maintaining that the butler was faithful to the Pope? We do not know. Paolo Gabriele gave him some documents, which the spiritual father claims to have promptly burned, as he realized they were part of «something illicit». Did this spiritual father tried to make Paolo Gabriele realize how seriously flawed his behavior was?
Imbued by the Holy Spirit
Only after the arrest – that took place in the night of May 23 – did Paolo Gabriele decide to cooperate with the Vatican magistrate. A quote from the interrogation provides insights of the Papal butler’s personality. Gabriele claims to be «imbued by the Holy Spirit», claiming that, faced with certain knowledge of corruption, he thought that «a media shock» could eventually help the Pope to clean up the Curia. He explains how he got in touch with the journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi and why he chose him (he was fascinated with his previous book Vatican S.p.A., Vatican Ld), states that he was the «crow» that granted an interview – hiding his identity – to the Italian TV show Gli Intoccabili, and that the interview was not broadcasted in its entirety. There is no hint of Gabriele’s relations with other journalists. In the documents of the inquiry, it is understood that other documents leaked to the press were not all provided by Paolo Gabriele. The content of some of the documents published in Nuzzi’s book were already public in detailed accounts in other newspapers’ articles. Was Paolo Gabriele the leaker? It is a legitimate question, but the current process is not meant to address this.
In Gabriele’s papers
In Paolo Gabriele’s messy home one can find everything: part of the documents published in the book Sua Santità, a series of copies of various newspapers articles, and newspaper clippings. «I have a passion for intelligence,» Paolo Gabriele says. In the midst of that disorganization there is also a Euro 100,000 check made out to the Pope, from a Catholic university in Spain – «accidentally placed among other papers, he would never cash it in», Carlo Fusco, Gabriele’s lawyer, declared; a golden nugget given to the Pope by a benefactor in Peru, which Gabriele also attributes to his not being organized; and a 16th century edition of Virgil’s Aeneid. «Gaenswein – Gabriele tells the magistrate – sometimes gave me gifts sent to the Holy Father. Since I have a particular passion for books, Gaenswein used to give me books. For what concerns the Aeneid edition, I remember that my son had started studying that poem, so I asked Msgr. Gaenswein if I could show the book to my son’s teacher. He agreed, and the book remained in my house. I was going to return it.»
Paolo Gabriele would have acted alone, with no accomplices. Claudio Sciarpelletti was not an accomplice. In a drawer of Sciarpelletti’s office desk investigators found a medium-size envelope, which read «Riservato P. Gabriele». Sciarpelletti gave different accounts of why the envelope was in his drawer. At first, Sciarpelletti said that Gabriele gave him that envelope two years before, and nothing was written on it. Gabriele wanted an opinion about something contained in the envelope, but Sciarpelletti never opened it and eventually forgot about it. Only recently he wrote on the envelope to remind himself about Gabriele’s request for his opinion – a request the butler never insisted on. In another account, Sciarpelletti said that he was given the envelope to give it to Gabriele – the name of the person that gave him the envelope is blacked-out in the indictment. Once, Sciarpelletti said that Gabriele was not a friend, he just happened to know him. Another time, Gabriele and Sciarpelletti are friends who are so close that when they get together their families also join them. There is no evidence to charge Sciarpelletti of aggravated theft or revealing secrets. However, his ever changing responses got him charged with abetting. The penalty for this crime – Father Lombardi explains – ranges «from nothing to not much».
The penalty for Paolo Gabriele, on the other hand, can be a maximum of 8 years imprisonment. But he is unlikely to spend 8 years in prison, considering that he has no previous convictions and the extenuating circumstances. Among them, Gabriele’s peculiar psychological makeup. The Vatican magistrates long discussed if Gabriele was indictable, if he was incompos mentis or not. A psychiatric examination was requested. Prof. Tatarella was the examiner appointed by the Vatican public prosecutor, while Prof. Cantelmi was the examiner appointed by Gabriele’s lawyer. The first stated that Gabriele was not incompos mentis, the latter said he was. Both of them underline some peculiar aspects of the butler’s personality. Tatarella – whose examination is completely accepted by the magistrates – notes a personality marked by a sort of persecutory delusion: more and more Gabriele «alludes to plots and conspiracies for or against prominent people, both laymen and – more frequently – prelates». Tatarella also reported that Gabriele fell victim to paranoia and his decision to leak the letters was driven by a «deep necessity to win the attention and affection of others.»
The expert appointed by Gabriele’s lawyer suggested Gabriele was prey to «restlessness, tension, rage and frustration.» He felt unfit for the job and vulnerable to «external manipulation». Who knows if Gabriele was manipulated by those «Vatican officials and prelates, even top ranking ones» with whom he confided «beyond what he could revealed if he had observed the limits and the discretion that his institutional role demanded»?
The hunt for the manipulator has just begun: was it Stanislaw Dziwisz, now cardinal, for years personal secretary of John Paul II, the one who hired Paolo Gabriele to serve in the papal apartment? Was it Msgr. James Harvey, Prefect of the Pontifical Household, a good friend of Paolo Gabriele, that after Dziwisz’s recommendation took Paolo Gabriele under his protection? Was it the circle around Jozef Bart, a “Polish gang” parish priest at the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia — where the devotion of the Divine Mercy is celebrated by will of the late John Paul II – who is a good friend of Dziwisiz and allegedly (according to some rumors) Gabriele’s spiritual father? Or was it some cardinal and prelate of the so-called “diplomats’ faction”, who stands for those who got accustomed to yielding a lot of power under John Paul II and who resent not having that power anymore?
Waiting for the Cardinal Commission report
We still do not know who instigated Paolo Gabriele’s behavior. It is for sure someone intelligent enough to understand the butler’s weakness, and shrewd enough to suggest actions while avoiding being held responsible for them. The Cardinal Commission appointed by Benedict XVI (comprised by cardinals Herranz, Tomko, and De Giorgi) will presumably address this issue. The commission ended a first round of questionings and meetings, but the report is still not public because the commissioners do not want their report to overlap with the magistrate’s investigation. Father Lombardi noted that «The Pope wants to follow with coherence and concreteness the magistrate’s course of action. That is why we may presume (…) that the Pope will wait until the end of Paolo Gabriele’s trial. We know well the character of the Pope, who is very careful to allow things to run their course properly, without rush».
Benedict XVI changes part of his team
In the meanwhile, the first changes in the Curia shows Benedict XVI’s wish to rebalance his team, giving more weight to his personal secretary Georg Genswein. Some observers hypothesize that the involvement of the previous secretary, Clemens, of Ingrid Stampa, and of Card. Sardi was leaked to the press from inside the Vatican. The purpose would have been to alert public opinion so that it would not be surprised when these names are mentioned during the trial, once that all the names omitted become public.
One of the first changes in the Pontifical Household team was, in fact, a «routine» change. Leonardo Sapienza was appointed regent of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household. His appointment was an open secret. Msgr. Paolo De Nicolò, the prior regent, turned 75 and had to retire, and Leonardo Sapienza – who served for years as protocol attaché to the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household – was De Nicolò’s ideal successor.
Even when De Nicolò’s retirement was expected and Sapienza’s appointment a given, we still do not know if there will be other changes within the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household. This Prefecture is an important office within the Holy See: it directly serves the Pope and oversees the Pontifical Household and Pontifical Ceremonies (liturgy excluded). Because of the particularity to be at the personal service of the Pope, the members of the Prefecture are constantly in touch with the Pope’s secretaries.
A long-time rumor speaks about a «formal» integration of Msgr. Georg Gaenswein in the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household’s ranks. Gaenswein would be appointed “Adjunct Prefect”, and be ordained bishop. This hypothesis would be supported by the fact that Sapienza has been appointed regent, but not ordained bishop.
Gaenswein’s integration in the Prefecture staff organogram would be Benedict XVI’s way to provide his own secretary with more weight within the Pontifical Household. Gaenswein was under attack during the so-called Vatileaks scandal. Critics hostile to the Papal secretary became even more vocal with the articles involving Clemens, Stampa and Sardi.
These are just rumors, which are nevertheless revealing because they are mostly focused on the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household and its staff, underscoring the importance of those around the Pope. Vatileaks seemingly had two different goals: to make the Pope accessible to the ones who feel left out and are longing for power; or, if this is not possible, to isolate Benedict XVI, undermining even his closest collaborators, like Gaenswein. It is as if Gaenswein should pay for his role – a natural role for a personal secretary — of filtering access and shielding the Pope.