Vatileaks: Pope's butler did it 'for good of church'
Guilty Gabriele gets 18-month sentence after swift trial -- but verdict described as 'political'
Nick Squires in Vatican City
IN THE end it was the butler, and only the butler, who did it -- or so the Vatican would have the world believe.
Paolo Gabriele, the Pope's personal valet, was convicted of stealing secret papers from the Holy See yesterday and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
But there was growing suspicion that he had been subjected to little more than a show trial and that the Vatican had successfully prevented the true extent of the 'Vatileaks' scandal from emerging.
During the trial, it was revealed that some of the documents taken by the butler were so confidential that they had been marked "to be destroyed", in German, by the Pope himself.
But neither the prosecution nor defence inquired as to what they referred to, and their contents remain a secret.
"This was a political trial and a political sentence -- it was in the interests of the Vatican to conclude it as quickly as possible," Marco Puliti, a veteran Vatican journalist and the author of a respected recent book on the papacy of Benedict XVI, said.
Vatican prosecutors had asked for a three-year prison sentence for Gabriele, 46, who amassed a huge collection of stolen papal documents.
But the three judges in the case handed down a lesser sentence after taking into account his previous good service, his lack of prior convictions and the fact that he had apologised to the 85-year-old Pope.
Gabriele's defence lawyer had asked for the court to downgrade the charge of aggravated theft to the lesser offence of "misappropriation" of the documents.
Cristiana Arru argued that Gabriele had simply photocopied the documents in the Pope's offices and had not physically removed them.
She said he had leaked the papers to an Italian journalist who published them in a best-selling book in May out of a desire to "do good and not to damage the church".
The documents revealed intrigue, dirty-tricks campaigns and allegations of corruption and nepotism at the heart of the Holy See, in one of the biggest scandals to hit the Vatican for years.
While there was never much doubt that Gabriele had stolen and leaked the documents, the key question of whether he was helped by other moles and collaborators in the Vatican remains unanswered.
The Vatican insisted that the trial was fair and transparent, but critics said it seemed slanted from the beginning. The three judges denied a request from the defence to hear evidence from a commission of three cardinals who were appointed by the Pope to delve deeper into the Vatileaks scandal and who presented their confidential report to him over the summer.
The cardinals, led by a prominent member of Opus Dei, are believed to have questioned more than 20 people inside the Vatican.
Giuseppe Dalla Torre, the presiding judge in the trial, repeatedly prevented the defence from raising the issue of exactly why Gabriele had felt compelled to betray the trust of the Pope, and whether he might have had accomplices who remained at large within the Vatican.
The butler, who had faithfully served the Pope for six years, has said he stole and leaked the papers in an attempt to make public the hypocrisy, mismanagement and "evil" at the heart of the church.
He said he felt that the Pope was ill-informed about what was going on around him and that he was open to manipulation by the other powerful figures within the Holy See.
The speed of the trial was also striking -- it consisted of four morning hearings which in total lasted around 10 hours.
Despite attracting worldwide headlines, it was barely mentioned in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's newspaper. The paper carried a brief notice about it earlier this week but Gabriele was not even named.
"The judges did not want to investigate the dissent which is at the heart of the Vatican," said Mr Politi, whose recent book is entitled Crisis of a Papacy. "They said the findings of the commission of cardinals were not relevant to the trial, but they were directly relevant... No one is convinced by the Vatican's line that he acted alone."
Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, insisted that the trial had been open and fair and that there had been no interference from the Pope or the Secretariat of State, the Vatican's main administrative body.
The fact that the judges gave the former valet a much lighter sentence than prosecutors had asked for was "magnaminous" and a sign of their "humanity", Father Lombardi said.
After the sentence was delivered, Gabriele was allowed to return to house arrest in the Vatican apartment he shares with his family, not far from the Pope's quarters.
His defence has three days to decide whether to appeal.
But that may be unnecessary -- Father Lombardi said there was a strong chance that the Pope would pardon his former employee, meaning that he may not spend any time behind bars.