Vatican City -
The trial of Pope Benedict XVI's butler, which ends on Saturday after just four hearings, has split experts between some who say it is Vatican transparency in action and others who detect a whitewash.
The world's tiniest state has for the first time opened its doors for the biggest trial of its modern history to a small group of journalists, who have then relayed the content of the courtroom drama to their colleagues.
Cameras have however mostly been kept out, the courtroom tucked away behind the Vatican walls is off limits to the general public and the brief trial of Paolo Gabriele for aggravated theft has been relatively limited in scope.
Vatican expert Marco Politi defined the trial as “nebulous” and said that the charge of aggravated theft against Gabriele for leaking confidential Vatican papers to an Italian journalist covered up for harsher truths.
“The core of this story is the betrayal and the unprecedented leak of documents that reveal conflicts within the Curia, instances of corruption that have not been clarified, battles over the Vatican bank,” Politi said.
“The court is closing its eyes and not going deeper,” he said.
For all the brevity of the trial, Gabriele's defence has been stronger than many experts had predicted and he has accused Vatican gendarmes of mistreatment during his detention - a charge quickly denied by the papal police.
Some Catholic publications have sprung to the Vatican's defence, with the weekly Famiglia Cristiana accusing certain media outlets of having turned Gabriele into a “martyr” and of believing his every word “like molten gold”.
Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre has appeared keen to keep the trial limited to the charges and not allowing broader discussions that could help understand Gabriele's motivations or explore his network of contacts and sources.
Dalla Torre at the first hearing threw out a request from the defence to include in the documents of the trial a secret report into the “Vatileaks” scandal compiled for the pope by a group of cardinals in a parallel inquiry.
The judge said that report had “no relevance” to the case at hand.
He also separated Gabriele's case from that of Claudio Sciarpelletti, a Vatican computer technician accused of abetting the crime and a case that could shed more light on how Gabriele came to obtain the documents he passed on.
Gianluigi Nuzzi, the journalist Gabriele is accused of leaking documents to has hardly been mentioned at the trial and there are no charges against him.
As the trial concludes, it is not clear how Gabriele could have obtained such a vast number of documents including originals spanning several years.
The inquiry is ongoing, however, and prosecutors have left open the possibility of probing more serious charges like the leaking of state secrets.
When Gabriele took the stand on Tuesday, Dalla Torre cut him off repeatedly as he tried to speak about the reasons for his actions and in particular his desire to better inform the pope, who he felt was being “manipulated”.
Asked by his lawyer to explain what exactly he thought the pope was badly informed about, Gabriele began by saying “Certainly...” but the judge quickly intervened saying: “This is irrelevant. Let's discuss the case at hand.”
The system the judge is operating in is also highly unusual as the Vatican's criminal laws date back to the late 19th century and the pope holds sweeping powers including the right to dismiss a case before it comes to trial.
Some commentators say the simple fact that the pope allowed the case to go to trial despite the obvious embarrassment of airing an affair that concerns him so personally in public shows a will to discuss the issues at hand.
The inclusion as a witness of the pope's personal secretary Georg Gaenswein, a hugely influential figure in the Vatican who generally keeps a low public profile, has also been seen as revolutionary by observers of Vatican affairs.
The pope “wants to know and wants others to know what happened,” Marco Tosatti, a Vatican expert who writes for La Stampa daily, told AFP.
Lucetta Scaraffia, a columnist for L'Osservatore Romano, also said that she believed the pope himself was “allowing issues to be aired.” - Sapa-AFP