Vatican computer expert convicted in papal butler case

VATICAN CITY Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:14pm EST

A general view of St. Peter's square as Pope Benedict XVI conducts a special mass in Vatican City in this October 21, 2012 file photograph. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini /Files

A general view of St. Peter's square as Pope Benedict XVI conducts a special mass in Vatican City in this October 21, 2012 file photograph.

Credit: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini /Files

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Vatican court on Saturday found a Holy See computer expert guilty of obstruction of justice in the investigation of leaks of sensitive papal documents to the media by Pope Benedict's former butler.

But after two lightning trials in the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal that has been a major embarrassment for the Vatican, many questions remained unanswered.

The same court which last month convicted Paolo Gabriele, the Pope's former butler, gave Claudio Sciarpelletti a two-month suspended sentence. It ruled he "helped obstruct" the investigation by changing his version of events several times under police questioning.

The leaks unleashed one of the biggest crises of Pope Benedict's papacy, hitting the Vatican at a time when it was struggling to overcome several child sex abuse scandals involving clerics, as well as mismanagement at its bank.

Vatican watchers are skeptical Gabriele could have acted alone, suggesting he may have been forced to take the blame in order to shield bigger players inside the Holy See.

They say both men could be pawns in a palace power struggle.

Gabriele's trial lasted only four sessions and Sciarpelletti's only two sessions. Both concentrated on the leaks of the documents and neither delved into the core issue of the alleged corruption mentioned in the leaked documents.

Sciarpelletti's sentence was reduced from four to two months because he had no criminal record and suspended because of his long service with the Vatican.

The defense said it will appeal. It had argued that Sciarpelletti, 48, a friend of the former butler, was confused and in shock after his arrest, which explained why he gave investigators different versions of events.

"Why would a man who had so much to lose, his job, his reputation, obstruct justice for someone else?" defense lawyer Gianluca Benedetti said.

SEALED ENVELOPE

When Vatican police searched Sciarpelletti's desk in the Secretariat of State - the nerve centre of the Holy See's administration - they found a closed envelope addressed to Gabriele marked "personal".

It contained a printed e-mail and documentation relating to a chapter in a book about Vatican corruption and intrigue written by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who had received confidential documents from Gabriele.

Gabriele, 46, who was one the four witnesses who testified on Saturday, was convicted of aggravated theft at a separate trial last month and sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The former butler told the court that he gave Sciarpelletti some papers but none of them were confidential. He said he wanted Sciarpelletti's opinion because of a widespread sense of malaise in the Vatican about allegations of corruption

One of the pope's closest household assistants, Gabriele admitted leaking the documents in what he said was an attempt to help disclose corruption and "evil" in the headquarters of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic faith.

But several new twists emerged in the last hearing of the trial that left some questions unanswered.

One was that Sciarpelletti had told investigators early on that a Vatican monsignor who also works in the secretariat of state had given Sciarpelletti an envelope to give to Gabriele.

A heated debate broke out between the prosecution and defense, which asked that Sciarpelletti be recalled to the stand to be questioned about it. The judge refused.

Monsignor Carlo Maria Polvani, Sciarpelletti's immediate superior, told the court that Sciarpelletti all of a sudden had become "closed and always in a dark mood" and told him "you have to forgive me, you have to understand me".

But neither the prosecution, defense nor the judge asked Polvani to elaborate on why Sciarpelletti, who had always claimed his innocence, felt he needed forgiveness.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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