‘VatiLeaks’ trial will be landmark event for Vatican tribunal
For the Vatican’s criminal court, the trial of Paolo Gabriele and Claudio Sciarpelletti for their alleged part in leaking papal correspondence will be unusual and may lead the Vatican to invoke a never-used cooperation agreement with Italy.
Giovanni Giacobbe, promoter of justice in Court of Appeal of Vatican City State, explained to reporters Sept. 27 how the Vatican conducts a criminal trial. But he also admitted that such trials are “extremely” rare, and the only thing remotely similar was a trial for drug possession on Vatican property some 10 years ago.
If Gabriele and Sciarpelletti are found guilty and are sentenced to jail time, they would serve that time in an Italian prison under the terms of a decades-old Italian-Vatican agreement that has never been used, Giacobbe said. Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981, was handed over to Italian police and found guilty in an Italian court, not a Vatican court.
Gabriele, who was arrested in May after Vatican police found papal correspondence and other items in his Vatican apartment, faces a charge of aggravated theft, which Giacobbe said carries a possible sentence of up to four years. Sciarpelletti, who had a copy of a document from Gabriele in his desk at the Vatican Secretariat of State, was charged with aiding and abetting Gabriele. He faces up to one year in prison.
Giacobbe said Gabriele’s innocence or guilt will have to be determined first because Sciarpelletti cannot be tried for aiding and abetting if the original act is not determined to be a crime.
The judge said there was no way to predict how long the trial would last, although an indication could come from the first session when the prosecution and defense teams make motions, declare whether or not they will contest any of the evidence gathered by Vatican investigators and whether or not they will call more witnesses.
The fact that Gabriele has admitted to investigators that he took the material and shared it with an Italian journalist does not constitute absolute proof, and the judges cannot base their judgment solely on the confession, Giacobbe said.
At one time, he said, “a confession was known as the ‘queen of all proofs,’” but most legal experts recognize that confessions can be coerced or that defendants may confess to protect another person.
The responsibility of the judges hearing the trial, Giacobbe said, is to determine whether the evidence supports Gabriele’s confession.
He said the confession could “facilitate the trial,” making it go more smoothly, and if the accused confesses or expresses repentance and contrition then the judge “will take that into consideration” during sentencing.
Giacobbe said the practice of beginning a trial with a defendant entering a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty” does not exist in Vatican or Italian trials. Also, under Vatican law, a defendant is not asked to take an oath before testifying “like on Perry Mason,” he said.
The accused has every right to “say things that are false in order to defend himself” and not incriminate himself, the judge said. [More]