Pope's butler jailed in time for crucial church synod
Pope Benedict XVI opened a crucial meeting of bishops from around the world yesterday, just 24 hours after his butler was given an 18-month prison sentence for stealing confidential papers from the Vatican.
Many observers said it was no coincidence that the trial of Paolo Gabriele, one of the biggest scandals to hit the Holy See for many years, was brought to a neat conclusion the day before the start of the three-week synod.
Senior Vatican figures were anxious that the trial, which consisted of just four hearings lasting less than 10 hours, be dealt with quickly so that the Pope could concentrate on the synod and the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which reformed key aspects of the Roman Catholic Church.
However, lingering questions about the murky affair could yet tarnish the conference, in which Catholic leaders will discuss how to "re-evangelise" the West in the face of secularism and a sharp decline in church attendance. One Italian newspaper, 'Corriere della Sera', published a list of 10 unanswered questions regarding the butler's theft and leaking of compromising documents, including whether the butler had done a deal with the Vatican not to speak freely about the scandal in return for a lenient sentence.
The fact that the father-of-three started stealing papal documents as long ago as 2006 but only began to leak them in the last year was also odd, unless he had been awaiting instructions from someone complicit in the plot, the paper said.
The trial failed to delve into his true motives for stealing the documents, some of which were so sensitive that the 85-year-old Pope had personally marked them "to be destroyed".
In a television interview before his arrest in May, Gabriele said "about 20" people in the Vatican were involved in his mission to root out "evil and corruption" in the church.
The Pope opened the synod by being driven around St Peter's Square in his Popemobile as crowds of pilgrims waved national flags. (© Daily Telegraph, London)