Vatican computer tech convicted in leaks scandal

AP News
Posted: Nov 10, 2012 12:26 PM
Vatican computer tech convicted in leaks scandal

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A Vatican court on Saturday convicted a Holy See computer technician of helping the former papal butler in the embarrassing leak of confidential papal documents and gave him a two-month suspended sentence in the last trial in the scandal.

Claudio Sciarpelletti, a 48-year-old Italian who is a computer program analyst in the Vatican's Secretariat of State, testified that he had played no role in helping to leak the documents, which later formed the core of an Italian journalist's book alleging corruption in high ranks of the Vatican bureaucracy.

Last month, Paolo Gabriele, who served Pope Benedict XVI his meals and helped him dress for ceremonies, was convicted in a separate trial for the theft of the documents from the papal apartment and is serving an 18-month prison sentence in Vatican City.

Gabriele and Sciarpelletti are the only Vatican employees to be formally investigated in the case, which distressed the pope, embarrassed the Vatican hierarchy and left many wondering about the competence of the Holy See's security apparatus.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters after the verdict that the probe into the leak "isn't closed," but gave no indication of whether any other suspects existed. Lombardi said it was unclear if Sciarpelletti will keep his Vatican job. The defendant was ordered to pay court costs of a few thousand dollars, Lombardi said.

Sciarpelletti was convicted of aiding and abetting Gabriele by giving conflicting statements to Vatican investigators about an envelope found in his desk, addressed to Gabriele.

Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre cited Sciarpelletti's long years of service at the Vatican while suspending the sentence and ordering the criminal conviction not to appear on his record. The judge, a layman, said the court concluded that Sciarpelletti had helped Gabriele "elude the investigations of the authorities" at the Vatican.

At the start of Saturday's proceeding, the Vatican prosecutor sought conviction and a four-month sentence, which the court agreed with. But in announcing the sentence it immediately shaved two months off it to reflect Sciarpelletti's Vatican employment "service and lack of criminal record."

The verdict, following just over an hour of deliberation, was rendered "in the name of Pope Benedict XVI," Dalla Torre said.

Sciarpelletti looked crestfallen when he heard the verdict, then embraced his wife in the courtroom, according to a pool of reporters chosen by fellow journalists. Gabriele lives in Vatican City, but Sciarpelletti and his family live in Rome.

Both sides in the Sciarpelletti case have three days to appeal. Defense lawyer Gianluca Benedetti indicated that he would appeal.

Vatican investigators found the sealed envelope addressed to "P.Gabriele" and containing documents in Sciarpelletti's office desk. The prosecutor himself confirmed Benedetti's assertion that the envelope held documents "irrelevant, of zero value."

Gabriele, in court this time as a witness, described himself as a friend of the computer technician. During his own trial, the butler said he was concerned that Benedict wasn't being informed of the "evil and corruption" in the Vatican.

Gabriele testified he would give Sciarpelletti "many things" he had read on the Internet, along with copies of the pope's speeches and church teachings, but contended he never gave him official documents.

Sciarpelletti testified he never opened the envelope given to him 2 ½ years ago and insisted his statements to investigators were confused because of the "great panic" and "moral shock" he felt after being arrested and held in a Vatican cell for a day in May. He also said that it is difficult to remember what he did nearly three years earlier, including who gave him the documents.

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At one point, early in the probe, the computer expert told Vatican investigators the envelope was given him by his boss, Monsignor Carlo Maria Polvani, who is a nephew of the current Vatican ambassador to Washington. The diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, was the No. 2 administrator at the Holy See until being posted in Washington earlier this year.

In one of the letters leaked in the probe, Vigano pleaded with Benedict not to be transferred after exposing alleged corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts that cost the Holy See millions of euros (dollars).

Polvani told the court he "never transferred any document protected by official secret" to Gabriele. "I swear on (my) baptism and priesthood that I never" did such a thing, the monsignor testified.

At one point Saturday, the usual formal atmosphere of the Vatican courtroom was interrupted by a bit of humor. When a court employee who was writing summaries of the testimony on a laptop complained of computer problems, Sciarpelletti offered his services, asking the judge: "Do you need a technician?"

The courtroom rippled with chuckles, but his help wasn't needed. It turned out there was a problem with a plug, which was quickly resolved.