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Vatican computer tech convicted in leaks scandal

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican court on Saturday convicted a Holy See computer technician of helping the former papal butler in the embarrassing leak of confidential papal documents and gave him a two-month suspended sentence.

Claudio Sciarpelletti, a 48-year-old Italian who is a computer program analyst in the Vatican's Secretariat of State, had testified earlier in the trial that he had played no role in helping to leak the documents, which later formed the core of an Italian journalist's book alleging corruption in high ranks of the Vatican bureaucracy.

Last month, Paolo Gabriele, who served Pope Benedict XVI his meals and helped him dress for ceremonies, was convicted in a separate trial for the theft of the documents from the papal apartment, and is serving an 18-month prison sentence in Vatican City.

Gabriele and Sciarpelletti are the only Vatican employees to be formally investigated in the case, which distressed the pope, embarrassed Vatican hierarchy and left many wondering about the competence of the Holy See's security apparatus.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters after the verdict that the probe into the leak "isn't closed," but gave no indication of whether any other suspects existed.

Sciarpelletti was convicted of aiding and abetting Gabriele by giving conflicting statements to Vatican investigators about an envelope found in his desk, addressed to Gabriele.

Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre cited Sciarpelletti's long years of service at the Vatican in suspending the sentence as well as ordering that the criminal conviction not appear on his record. The judge, a layman, said the court concluded that Sciarpelletti had helped Gabriele "elude the investigations of the authorities" at Vatican.

The verdict, following an hour of deliberation, was rendered "in the name of Pope Benedict XVI," Dalla Torre said.

Sciarpelletti looked crestfallen when he heard the victim, then immediately went to embrace his wife who was in the courtroom, according to reporters that the Vatican permitted to attend the trial.

Both sides have three days to appeal. Defense lawyer, Gianluca Benedetti, indicated that he would appeal, but stopped short of giving a definite reply when asked.

Vatican investigators had found the sealed envelope addressed to "P.Gabriele" and containing documents in Sciarpelletti's office desk. Sciarpelletti's defense had seemed to be strengthened when the prosecutor himself confirmed Benedetti's assertion that the envelope held documents of "irrelevant value."

Sciarpelletti said Saturday he never opened the envelope given to him 2 years ago, and insisted that his statements given to investigators were confused because of the "moral shock" he felt after being arrested and held in a Vatican cell for a day in May.

He also said that it is difficult to remember what he did nearly three years earlier, including who gave him the documents.

"I challenge anyone to recall what he did three years earlier, even on the day of your birthday," Sciarpelletti told the court.

Also on Saturday, two Vatican security officials gave brief testimony, including the No. 2 Swiss guard commander who told the court that Sciarpelletti cooperated with investigators.

The pope's top bodyguard, Domenico Giani, didn't come to court, citing security duties involving appearances by Benedict elsewhere at the Vatican, and the judge excused him from testifying.

The usual formal atmosphere of the Vatican courtroom had a moment of brief humor, provided by Sciarpelletti. When a court employee, taking down summaries of the testimony on a laptop, complained of computer problems, Sciarpelletti offered his services, asking the judge: "Do you need a technician?"

The courtroom rippled with chuckles, but his help wasn't needed. It turned out there was a problem with a plug, which was quickly resolved.

Lombardi said it was unclear if Sciarpelletti will keep his Vatican job. The defendant was ordered to pay court costs of a few thousand dollars, he said.

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