Vatican openness in butler case not enough, critics say

The Vatican has hailed its report on the decision to put the pope’s butler on trial as proof of its transparency, but critics suspect the secretive state of diverting attention from its scandals.

The Church has been plagued by controversy in recent years, from allegations of money laundering and criminal associations to child sex abuse, and has been repeatedly accused by critics of covering up its sins to protect insiders.

To prove its commitment to openness, the Vatican marked its decision to charge butler Paolo Gabriele for leaking secret papers to the media by releasing the full statements made by the magistrate and others concerned.

Details were also revealed about another Holy See employee, who has been charged with aiding and abetting Gabriele.

Only the names of the witnesses who were interrogated during the inquiry were obscured for the sake of due process.

“A publication this sweeping and complete is a courageous and rather unusual act for the Vatican,” said Holy See spokesman Federico Lombardi.

“It is a concrete step… to confront problems rigorously and transparently, without shortcuts or secretiveness,” he added.

Gabriele risks up to six years in prison if found guilty of “aggravated theft.”

He admits stealing but says he was driven to leak the private documents to the press to draw the pope’s attention to the Holy See’s murky goings-on.

Frustrated by the “series of unresolved mysteries” and poisonous atmosphere in a state ripe for scandal, the 46-year-old smuggled out letters and documents regarding corruption, the clerical paedophilia and an internal power struggle.

Despite Gabriele’s insistence that he worked alone, many religious observers believe the operation was far too big to be orchestrated by one man and the media have speculated over whether he was a pawn in a wider plot to grab power.

“The Church wants only one sinner,” the left-wing La Repubblica daily said when the news broke, accusing the Vatican of using Gabriele as a scapegoat.

There is also a sense that there may be an attempt to undermine the butler’s testimony by discarding the original description of him as a model employee, in favour of citing mental health experts who say he has “paranoid tendencies.”

In his statements, Gabriele said he saw “evil and corruption everywhere in the Church,” accusations critics say the Vatican appears to have ignored.

“As the magistrate said (in his report), there are still things that need to be cleared up,” Marco Politi, Vatican expert for Il Fatto Quotidiano, told AFP.

“The cardinals’ report must be published as well,” he said, referring to the inquiry into the leaks being carried out by a trio of investigating cardinals.

Critics say the butler’s trial actually means the larger issues raised by the leaks are being glossed over.

“Hallelujah. It was the butler’s fault. The Vatican is holy and immaculate,” said Il Fatto Quotidiano daily, lamenting that the case “concerns just the documents theft… not what the documents revealed: corruption, waste, theft”.

Adriano Prosperi for La Repubblica asked: “Does anyone in the Vatican really think it is possible to conclude in this manner a sequence of facts which have been troubling the consciences of Catholics the world over?”

To show its commitment to transparency, the Vatican has hired a new media representative to improve its communications strategy, opened up its secretive bank to the press and called in independent experts to examine its books.

It has also said the investigation into the leaks scandal is not over, suggesting that there may be further interrogations and arrests to come.

Whatever happens, the Vatican will have to work hard to convince sceptics that it really is ready to open itself up to external scrutiny.

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