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18-month sentence for pope's former butler

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. 

About the Author

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).



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I very much agree with Rocco Palmo that this is the big story out of the Vatican today:

Gabriele's case seems to me an object lesson for anyone trying to understand the difference between a "sin" and a "crime." Assuming that the facts in the case really are true, and assuming that he is not taking the fall for others, it would seem that while Gabriele did indeed commit a crime (theft) he can hardly be held to be culpable of a sin, since his object was to help the church that he loves better to fulfill its mission on earth. Fraternal correction, in other words.

I wonder why do I keep on thinking that there was some kind of deal cut and someone high up in the Vatican said: Im gonna make him an offer he cant refuse.

Just like Pentagon Papers all over again. But the USA did not prosecute. Telling difference yes ?

One thing that is clear from Paolo's testimony is that he is not the dumbell that he was portrayed as at first. I wonder if the Pope sees that now and might be more inclined to take the opinions of "the pew warmers" more seriously. It's one thing to forgive the man. Charity requires that he be taken seriously.

"I wonder if the Pope...might be more inclined to take the opinions of 'the pew warmers' more seriously."Which segment of "the pew warmers" might you be referring to, Ann?From my experience, past and present, most "pew warmers" don't know what's going on, or they don't care. They are ignorant or indiffferent.

"One thing that is clear from Paolos testimony is that he is not the dumbell that he was portrayed as at first."I got the exactly opposite impression. From the beginnng the idea that one would help the Church 1) by holding in his apartment 82 boxes of assorted papal papers (plus a gold nugget, a $100,000 uncashed check etc) and 2) by leaking to the press some private letters that do not point to any substantial scandal, and that 3) in this way he was "helping" the Pope always looked quite stupid to me. The testimony amply confirmed that impression.

"a gold nugget, a $100,000 uncashed check etc)" ???payola?Somebody has to dig out the real story here before somebody is heard to say: "Leave the gun, keep the canolli."

Scicluna has just taught the rest of us yet another valuable lesson. If you do the right thing while doing your job, if said right thing involves stepping on cherished clerical tootsies, your reward will be banishment ASAP. Auxiliary bishop in Malta? Well done, good and faithful servant. He'll end up being a very OLD auxiliary bishop by the time he walks away, most likely in disgust.

Carlo --Check out the facts more carefully. The 82 boxes of papers are not originals or copies of Vatican documents. They are about Paolo's other interests -- espionage, Mansonry, etc. He did hide some Vatican papers in the boxes of other stuff, which sounds pretty clever to me.There is questions about the nugget. The police do not have a consistent explanation of where the nugget was found. This has led some to suspect a plant. Some of the material leaked to Nuzzi did indeed fan the flames of the Vatican bank investigation/scandal.No, Paolo is not a dummy. See the Moynihan reports of the trial. Moynihan is a conservative, so you might trust him.Dr. Robert Moynihan [email protected]

The most interesting question left is with whom and how the butler interacted internally and externally beyond Nuzzi. The answer may require a Vatileaks 2 if the three old cardinals don't gossip. The intensity of the apparent Vatican effort to keep the light focussed so very sharply and exclusively on Paolo is suggestive. Who are "the 20" and "Maria"?

The butler is under the pope. The prosecutor -- who moves up to auxiliary bishop, way to go! -- is under the pope. The investigators are under the pope. The judges are under the pope. The pope's spokesman, who is under the pope, says a papal pardon is in the works. Not even the Royal Shakespeare Company could be so tightly scripted. Talk about transparency!

Tom B. -- Probably normal for an old-style monarchy. Related questions about legalities of early conversations with "Vatican officials" arose when Paolo was in the process of getting lawyered up following his arrest, details of which I have forgotten except that he was essentially on his own. Re Paolo's testimony -- One unusual feature of the Vatican court is that the defendant does not testify under oath. Several observers have indelicately pointed out that Paolo was therefore free to say anything he wanted that he thought might work best for his defense. Maybe he will have more and/or different to say when he gets a chance.

To me the most interesting thing left hanging is this: one of the people whom Paolo mentioned as having discussed his concerns with him is Ingrid Stampa. Some say she is one of Benedict's closest advisors. (She took Benedict's sister's place as Benedict's housekeeper after his sister died). Stampa is a musicologist and is on at lest one Vatican commision (or so I've read). Reports say that the judge would not allow Paolo to give much testimony about her and his other contacts.Cherchez la femme? I wonder what the old cardinals had to say to her, and she to them :-)I gave Moynihan's email address above. Here's his site with the accounts of the

Do you suppose the Pope may give Paolo one of the new Year of Faith Indulgences instead of a pardon in an effort to have the Synod get in on some of the butler's news coverage? Paolo seems, unfortunately, to be the big Vatican story of the day on Al Jazeera, BBC, The Hindu, and

Pope Benedict is in a hard place right now. If he pardons Paolo, that could just encourage others who are discontented/dissidents/sore heads/gossips to think they can get away with telling tales out of the Vatican. And if he does pardon Paolo he'll look like it's a payoff for not telling more details. If he doesn't pardon him, it will look mean-spirited because Paolo was at least right about the IOR stuff he leaked. It also seems to me that by just asking for the report to be made public Paolo showed that he was confident that the findings would help his case, not the Vatican's. But the Vatican was damned if it didn't release the report and damned if it did. If it did, it would in all probability show more scandalous info. If it didn't, it would look like it has something to hide. It loses either way. (And it should lose.)

I am somewhat amused that a few commenters here have taken to calling Signor Gabriele "Paolo," as though he were a longtime family friend. It's a bit condescending, or so it seems to me. Whatever the merits of this story, it has, I think, been sensationalized well beyond the reality. Of course, the press loves it. The Pope's "butler" after all. For the best treatments of these bizarre events, I would recommend the several articles by Nicole Winfield, the Rome correspondent of AP. They are astute and well grounded in the facts.But Rocco Palmo was surely right to name the real Vatican story of the day as the"transfer" of Monsignor Charles Scicluna OUT of the CDF to become auxiliary bishop of Valetta, Malta. (See Palmo's excellent piece at Whispers in the Loggia.) Have we so soon forgotten that Msgr. Scicluna has been the chief voice and effective advocate at the CDF, indeed in the Roman Curia, for naming abuse by clerics of minors and doing something about it? His language has been blunt and courageous. Too much so, it would appear. As well, he was the persistent investigator who finally convinced Pope Benedict XVI to remove Marcel Maciel as superior general of the Legionaries of Christ and to put the powerful community in receivership.Why was today (6 October) chosen to announce Msgr. Scicluna's "departure" from Rome? Did it have anything to do with the expected judicial verdict as well as the beginning of tomorrow's Synod on the New Evangelization? A good time to ensure that the abandoned Curial advocate of victims of abuse by clergy will quite soon be forgotten?His successor has not been named.

John Page --- If Monsignor Scicluna had enabled the publication of a book like the one to which Signor Gabriele appears to be connected, he might have achieved a similar level of global familiarity. It is easy to believe there is a very serious, important, and fascinating story behind the Monsignor, though unlikely to be written. In the meantime, Paolo's principal contribution to Vatican history is reflected in "Sua Santit. Le carte segrete di Benedetto XVI" by Gianluigi Nuzzi (Jan 1, 2012), available at Amazon. I think of Paolo as an odd character in a tragicomic drama, no family friend. Sadly, the answer to your final question may be yes. "Sua Santita" may offer some bits relevant to the Monsignor's story in its previously unpublished pieces on the Legionaries, Maciel, and pedophilia. (I Haven't read it and don't plan to in Italian.)

Has it occurred to anyone else that Signor Gabriele's explanation of his motives is just a bit too convenient? A bit too contrived? A bit too idealistically pure?The one thing about these delicious Vatican internal intrigue stories that impresses me is that almost nothing is obvious, or as it seems, on first blush. A faint, within a faint, within a faint, ...For accomplished, careful, veteran Vatican politicos, like Joey Ratz, you don't make it to the top without knowing how to wield a stiletto in-close without leaving a trail of evidence crumbs back to your own doorstep.When you are a man of immense political power, like Joey Ratz, you don't get to where you are by being careless and stupid [a la leaving important and embarrassing documents lying around the apartment for the help to distribute to the media] - without a purpose.How could such a careful and ruthless politician like Joey Ratz let someone like Paolo Gabriele to get so close to the papal personage??? Like Paolo was never throughly screened and vetted? Yeah, right. Gabriele, we are asked to believe, was shocked to see how easily a pope was "manipulated???" Get real!Give me a break. I'm not buying those vegetables. Gabriele has probably seen all these Vatican/curia boys without their clothes on [both literally and figuratively].My best guess is that either Gabriele was a plant and/or mole in the papal household by Masonic or corporate or Mafia interests - "all the usual suspects." [Maybe even the CIA, yah think?] Or, the poor stumbling leaker Paolo is just the willing stooge for Joey Ratz to strike out at his perceived enemies in his own curia.My instincts tell me it is the latter, or a weird combination of both. Maybe Joey Ratz set Paolo up by leaving all those documents lying around in the gutter so Ratz's house pet would find them and leak them to the press? Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy!?!History tells us that most popes spend most of their waning years in office trying to fix the outcome of the next papal conclave. [Most recently, J23 greased the skids for P6; JP2 even changed the conclave election rules to favor B16.] It's not hard to imagine that JP2 needed to reward Joey Ratz for all the muscle he brought to bear upon the "liberation theologians" and "moral relativists" that he thought invected the hierarchy.Why is the prospect of a papal pardon already been planted and talked-up in the press? Was that part of the plan all along: You leak the papers, Paolo. We get to act horrified and transgressed. You posture as a outraged laymen about what's happening inside the church these days. We'll give you a get-out-of-jail-card-free with benefits after the requisite show trial that we will conduct and fix in secret. Go figure!

Jim J. -- You caught on. Cui bono?Short of reading the book, see the publisher's offering of 38 pages including pictures of some leaked documents. Note in particular the table of contents (pp. 19-21) listing the hundred or so items in the book and identifying peoples' names and events (e.g., pp. 193-199 on secrets known and unspoken on Marcial Maciel Legionaires). Also, a blurb on the author's web site lists selected highlights with names. Many individual items have drawn brief media notice and amplification. Still to come is the grand map that plots the connections among the people and events publicized by Nuzzi using what he received from "Maria". The next obvious step would be to check out nearby offices and activities that do not show up at all on the map of embarrassments. Why don't they? Where is/are "Maria"? Meanwhile, hope the three old cardinals leak before they retire from the case.

Jim and Jack --I agree with you guys that Paolo doesn't seem to be exactly a lily. How could he copy 1000 top secret papers in the presence of Ganswein and the other secretary and not be asked what he was doing??? I very much doubt that statement. On the other hand, much of his testimony was quite consistent with someone who genuinely was concerned with the state of the Church and the Pope. You don't have to be a lily to love the Church and Benedict. Maybe Benedict 16 is actually his hero. He took the job, remember, knowing that at times he would function as a physical shield for Benedict. Remember that JP II was almost killed by a sniper, and it could have happened to Paolo. No, Paolo ain't no naive creampuff.

Italy is the land where comic opera blossomed. This one is ready to bloom. Plot collaboration by Mel Brooks, Dan Brown, and Stephen Colbert. For music, scores of old Italian hits may be adaptable. Great scenery from around Rome and Vatican City State. As the curtain goes up for the Trial Scene, robed overseers solemnly sound off from their perches: * Fr. Lombardi -- "objectively defamatory" journalistic initiative is clearly criminal * Prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signatura Burke -- leaks are "most grave crimes" * Abp. Becciu -- theft is "an immoral act of unprecedented gravity" and "despicable abuse of the relationship of trust" Would that the Vatican responded as swiftly and vigorously to crime-related matters of sex abuse and money as it does to the embarrassment of a violation of "freedom of correspondence".

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