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Vatileaks: the last analysis

Who came out well, who came out badly - and what happens now?

Vatileaks: the last analysis
Alessandro Speciale, Vatican City
Vatican City

October 8, 2012

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It ended just like everyone expected, with a conviction. A mild one, admittedly, only 18 months, but a conviction nonetheless because the leaking of the Pope's confidential documents by one of the people closest to him could hardly go unpunished. It was also conducted and concluded at remarkable speed, so as not to overshadow the Synod on New Evangelization and the Year of Faith that begin immediately afterwards. This was evidently a major concern in the Vatican. But the Vatileaks affair is not yet over. A Papal pardon is probably on its way, but first the Vatican has to figure out what the next steps are in the life of the former butler. The prosecutor had called for him to be barred from any public office in the Vatican – a measure that seemed perfectly tailored for keeping Paolo Gabriele in some menial job inside the Vatican walls. But the judge ignored the request. After his jail term is done – or canceled by Benedict – the former butler will in principle be ready to resume his service in the Vatican apartment. No one is expecting this to happen. But the future of the pardoned butler is surely one of the highest concerns in the Vatican. One can only imagine the hundreds of requests for exclusive interviews, memoirs and exposes of his years serving an "easily manipulated" Pope – as he described Benedict during the trial - that will flood his mail box should he and his family leave their reclusive life in the world's smallest state. But this is by no means the only lingering question. The proceedings lasted long enough to give the whole thing a solid air of legal correctness but not enough to even scratch the surface of the affair that led to the trial itself in the first place. For one week the Vatican's largely untested police and legal system were under a global media spotlight that would have made many institutions crumble. All in all, it held surprisingly well. Some cracks did appear, especially in the way the Vatican police conducted the investigation. Gabriele's lawyer had an easy game in highlighting “loopholes” and “inconsistencies” in the policemen's work, not to mention the alleged mistreatment of the butler in the first few weeks of his detention. Particularly, the prosecutor's final coup de theatre – that a check, a gold nugget and an ancient book, all gifts for the Pope, had been found among Gabriele's belongings – almost backfired spectacularly. The prosecutor revealed the existence of these three objects at the very last minute of the last interrogation of the butler before his indictment, with the aim of casting a doubt on the pure, if misguided, motives he had presented for his actions. In fact, the defense had an easy play in all but nullifying their importance – almost suggesting that some or all of these objects might have been planted by police themselves. In the end, the judges recognized that Gabriele had acted erroneously, but in good faith. No more was heard about the wandering valuables. Another key character who doesn't come out well from the trial is the Pope's personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein. Always a central figure in the Vatican, the personal secretary becomes more and more important as a Pope grows old, protecting, controlling and limiting access to the frail leader. John Paul II's powerful secretary is now  himself a cardinal in Wojtyla's own town in Poland. Gaenswein testified at the trial and didn't make a good impression; unlike Gabriele, he came across as tense. He spoke in clipped sentences and was forced to contradict himself when he insisted he was a “very well organized person,” unlikely to lose sight of any document, only to admit a few minutes later that dozens of missing originals had gone astray without him noticing. In fact, it emerged that the “theft” of the Pope's secret papers happened not only under his watch, but under his very eyes, as Gabriele admitted to photocopying confidential documents in the office he shared with Gaenswein and the pope's other secretary, Monsignor Xuareb, during office hours. Finally, the Vatican itself. It was indeed a show of courage and honesty to host such a controversial – and potentially devastating - trial in the first place. But the whole thing was quite overshadowed by the decision to announce one of the most controversial transfers of the last few years on the very day of the Vatileaks sentence. What? You hadn't heard that Monsignor Scicluna, the point man in the Vatican response to the sex abuse crisis, the one who investigated Marcial Maciel and dozens of other pedophile priests, had been sent back as an auxiliary bishop to his native Malta? Must be just a coincidence.....
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