VATICAN CITY: A Vatican computer technician will go on trial on Nov. 5 on charges of helping Pope Benedict’s former butler steal secret papers, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Tuesday.
Claudio Sciarpelletti’s trial follows the conviction of ex-butler Paolo Gabriele, who was found guilty of stealing papers which revealed fraud scandals and intrigue at the heart of the Vatican, and sentenced to 18 months in jail.
The 48-year-old technician was arrested on May 25 as the Vatican investigation into the leaks unfolded, but was released the following day.
He was initially due to stand in the dock with Gabriele in early October, but was granted a separate trial. His alleged role in stealing and leaking the memos is considered “rather marginal” by the judiciary, Lombardi said.
His trial is likely to be even shorter than Gabriele’s, the spokesman added.
Gabriele spent months under house arrest but his trial in the so-called Vatileaks scandal lasted a week.
An envelope containing stolen documents and addressed to Gabriele was found in Sciarpelletti’s desk within the walls of the tiny state.
He has claimed ignorance, insisting he had forgotten it was there and never opened it.
The technician has also admitted, however, that two people gave him envelopes containing documents to pass on to the butler.
Lombardi told a briefing following the release of the full judgment on Gabriele that the former butler could serve his 18 months in a Vatican cell – scotching earlier rumors that he would likely be jailed in Italy.
Because the tiny state does not have a jail, experts said he would have to serve time in Italy – but the notion of letting the convicted whistleblower leave the Vatican’s walls was apparently worrying top clerics.
Vatican prosecutors still have time to appeal the verdict, but should they not do so in the next few days so “the sentence will come into effect and Gabriele will have to serve his time in the Vatican,” spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
“Cells have been outfitted in the police barracks,” he said.
Gabriele, who is currently under house arrest, was held in a holding cell in the Vatican for 53 days and accused the guards during the trial of mistreating him.
He may end up with the very same guards he filed complaints against.
But the butler may still escape serving time should the pontiff decide to pardon him: “It’s a possibility; I cannot say anything more than that. No-one knows,” Lombardi said.
The day the butler was sentenced Lombardi said it was “very likely” Gabriele would be pardoned, but there has only been silence from the pope himself so far.
Gabriele, who lives in a Vatican apartment with his wife and three children and continues to receive his salary, has been ordered to pay court costs.
The relationship between the butler and the computer technician is unclear.
While Gabriele insists they were friends and has talked about family outings together, Sciarpelletti says they were no more than acquaintances.
The trial could reveal interesting elements regarding five witnesses – or possible accomplices – whose names have been blacked out and replaced with letters of the alphabet in court documents.
The butler had told Italian investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published the leaks, that there were “around 20” like-minded people in the Vatican – sparking rumors that the leaks may be orchestrated by cardinals.
Religious watchers will be following the Sciarpelletti trial closely to see whether any fresh names emerge that could shed light on the latest scandal to embarrass the Vatican.