Paolo Gabriele, former butler for Pope Benedict XVI, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing confidential Vatican documents that he leaked to the news media. As I had suspected, it appears the motive behind this caper is high-minded: What the butler saw as one of the few lay people in the papal household made him fear for the church. As a loyal Catholic, he decided to do something about it by leaking documents to an Italian journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi. AFP reports on the proceedings against Gabriele:
"What really shocked me was when I sat down for lunch with the Holy Father and sometimes the pope asked about things that he should have been informed on," he told the court when he was given a chance to defend himself."It was then that I became firmly convinced of how easy it was to manipulate a person with such enormous powers," he said.
I've seen nothing to contradict what Gabriele told the court at the closing of his trial: "The thing I feel most strongly is the conviction of having acted out of visceral love for the Church of Christ and of its leader on earth." He deserves the papal pardon that, according to news accounts, is likely. One bit of intrigue lingers from a statement Gabriele made earlier that 20 people were involved in the scheme. He later denied this.The Vatican's response to the leaks was an overheated call for any journalists involved in publishing the leaked documents to be prosecuted. Have any lessons been learned? That a man like Gabriele - practically the only layman to enter this inner circle of the Vatican - felt morally compelled to take such drastic steps sounds yet another alarm about the way the church is being run at its highest levels.
Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).