The Trial of the Pope’s Butler and How the Vatican Works

Time has just published my story on the trial of the Pope’s butler.

It was what passes for transparency at the Vatican. Only eight reporters were permitted to attend the opening session on Saturday of the trial of the former butler to Pope Benedict XVI, Paolo Gabriele, who is accused of stealing and leaking the Pontiff’s personal papers. Before entering the courtroom, the journalists were asked to check their purses, cell phones and keys and pass through a metal detector. Even their writing implements were confiscated, replaced once they were inside by orange ball-point pens supplied by the Vatican. “They basically did not want you to bring in pens for fear that they were either audio or visual recording instruments,” says one of the attendant reporters, who asked to remain anonymous citing rules drawn up by the Vatican press corps forbidding the journalists who attended from telling their personal stories.

The trial, which is expected to wrap up by the end of the week, has been billed by some journalists as the most significant legal proceeding since the 16th century when Giordano Bruno was tried for heresy and burned at the stake. But that’s less a reflection of the gravity of the charges against Gabriele than of the type of cases the Vatican’s judicial system is usually called upon to handle. The proceedings took place in a corner of the Vatican city state, in a small courtroom normally reserved for petty crimes involving tourists or pilgrims. If convicted, Gabriele could face up to four years in prison — a term that would be served in an Italian facility.

Read the rest.