Trial begins for pope butler ‘accomplice’

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VATICAN CITY (AFP) – A Vatican computer technician accused of helping the pope’s former butler leak secret memos went on trial on Monday, in a case which could expose other whistleblowers within the Holy See.

Claudio Sciarpelletti was being tried in the tiny state’s 19th-century courtroom in what is expected to be a lightning trial as the Vatican rushes to wind up the embarrassing and damaging months-long scandal.

The 48-year-old is accused of aiding and abetting ex-butler Paolo Gabriele, who was sentenced to 18 months in jail last month after he admitted leaking papers alleging corruption and Machiavellian politics in the Vatican.

Cameramen and photographers have not been allowed into the courtroom for the trial and only a small group of journalists have been authorised to attend.

Vatican spokesman Ciro Benedettini told AFP the hearing had begun.

The technician was arrested on May 25 as the investigation into the leaks unfolded but only spent one night in a Vatican cell before being released.

A search by Vatican police unearthed a suspicious envelope addressed to Gabriele in Sciarpelletti’s desk.

In it, they found photocopies of memos published by Italian investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi in his book “His Holiness”, which collected letters depicting intrigue and infighting inside the Vatican.

The book touched on everything from fraud allegations to sex abuse scandals.

Called to account, Sciarpelletti’s testimony was confused and contradictory.

He said Gabriele had given him the envelope because he wanted his opinion on the contents, but that he had never opened it and had forgotten it was there.

He later said it was someone else entirely that had given him the envelope — a person identified in court documents only by the letter “W”.

He also talked about a second envelope, given to him by a certain “X”.

The trial will likely delve into the relationship between the butler and the technician. Gabriele — now serving time in a holding cell within the Vatican — is expected to take the stand to testify to their close friendship.

He was initially accused of giving false testimony, conspiracy to commit aggravated theft, aiding a thief and violating office secrets.

But the Vatican later reduced the charges, saying his alleged role in the leaks is “marginal” and that he faces only a light sentence if convicted after a trial likely to be shorter than Gabriele’s, which lasted a week.

Other witnesses expected to be called include William Kloter, deputy commander of the Swiss Guard and Sciarpelletti’s superior, Carlo Maria Polvani.

Monsignor Polvani is the nephew of Carlo Maria Vigano, formerly the Vatican’s top administrator, who had written letters to the pope which were later leaked alleging corruption in the Holy See.

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