The Vatileaks affair, with the pope's butler sentenced and then pardoned for stealing confidential documents, has taught the whole world about the existence in the Vatican of a judicial system analogous to that of other states, complete with judges and lawyers, tribunals and judicial police.
In recent days, this reality has come back to the forefront with the unprecedented audience of Benedict XVI with the corps of the Vatican gendarmeria on January 11, and with the solemn inauguration of the judicial year of Vatican City-State celebrated the following day.
On the occasion of this latter event, the adjunct promoter of justice, the lawyer Pierfrancesco Grossi, cited Vatileaks only implicitly in his presentation.
He did so at the beginning of his speech, to note how “the year just concluded was particularly demanding” for “well-known” reasons, “in part because of the prominence in the mass media of criminal actions perpetrated in the territory of the State, but with effects outside of it as well.”
And he made reference to it again towards the end, in order to explain that “in relation to the well-known criminal matters” in the Vatican it was also necessary to activate the office of the “judge of criminal sentencing,” pointing out, again implicitly, that in recent times there had never been cases of defendants sentenced and imprisoned, as happened with the former butler Paolo Gabriele.
But in addition to these two brief mentions, the presentation of the adjunct promoter of justice offered a substantial amount of news useful for understanding better the judicial world of the Vatican.
Here are some of them.
- In 2012 there were 1,321 judicial proceedings in Vatican State, a statistical abnormality if compared to the few hundreds of residents. “But this figure,” the magistrate explained, “certainly does not depend on a greater litigiousness of the inhabitants of Vatican City, nor on their greater inclination to crime, but it originates in the great number of persons who in various capacities enter the Vatican territory each year,” meaning the “18-20 million” including “pilgrims, tourists, visitors, frequenters of the offices of the Holy See and users of state services, without counting the employee personnel.”
- "2012,” the adjunct promoter of justice then explained, “was the year of projects for the verification and amelioration of Vatican legislation according to both international and European community norms in the matter of money laundering and the financing of terrorism.” In particular, the Holy See followed up on what had been “presented as desirable by the observers of Moneyval,” introducing most recently, with a law promulgated on December 14, 2012, norms granting further autonomy to the Financial Information Authority (AIF), assigning it the faculty of stipulating protocols of agreement directly with various states, informing the secretariat of state only afterward, while previously the nulla osta of the secretariat of state had been required beforehand.
- The presentation furthermore recalled that the judges of the Vatican tribunals, with the exception of the court of cassation, which is composed only of cardinals, are "appointed from among persons outside of the Vatican administration: in general, university professors in the Italian universities, who are also experts in canon law.” And this “guarantees competence but also a position of absolute independence, which has been appreciated.” At the same time, however, the presentation complained that the lawyers accredited to undertake activity in the Vatican tribunals “in many cases do not have adequate knowledge of Vatican law, both substantial and procedural,” and are often distinguished by an “absolute ignorance of canon law,” which still remains “the first normative source and the first point of reference for interpretation.”
- With regard to articles in the press that frequently complain of the scanty collaboration of the Holy See with the Italian judicial authorities, the presentation pointed out that this kind of collaboration, as far as rogatories are concerned, always passes through diplomatic channels. And it emphasized how since 1969 "the criminal rogatory requests received from Italian and foreign judges by the Vatican tribunal total 56: of these only two, now well in the past, were not executed because of a lack of jurisdiction.” The presentation then specified that 9 rogatories have not come from Italy, but from Argentina, Austria, France, Poland, the United States, and Switzerland. In 2012, it specified, there were five criminal rogatories from Italy and one from Poland, and "all of them have been processed."
- The adjunct promoter of justice also pointed out how “this office,” in the field of relations with other jurisdictions, has repeatedly expressed the wish for “international bilateral conventions or the adherence of this Sate to multilateral conventions." And he added that after the adherence of Vatican City-State to Interpol in 2008, “a further important step could be represented by the adherence of Vatican State to Europol [editor's note: the anti-crime agency of the European Union] and to Eurojust [editor's note: the agency of judicial cooperation in the EU]."
- Finally, the presentation updated the statistics on the state of Vatican justice. In 2012, the tribunal pronounced two civil sentences and two criminal sentences (these latter two obviously concerning Vatileaks) and carried out, as has been seen, actions relative to six international rogatories. There was no news about sentences from the tribunal of appeal or of cassation. The presentation also provided some curious information about the offices of Vatican civil justice. It was revealed that in 2012 at the Vatican there were 190 marriages, two births, and 18 deaths. “Therefore,” it was pointed out, “many non-citizens come to contract marriage at the Vatican, raising interesting questions of ecclesiastical law and of international private law; on the other hand, births are almost nil, which reflects the fact that Vatican citizenship has a mainly functional character."
In the final part of the presentation, the attorney Grossi did not neglect "to express heartfelt thanks to the corps of the gendarmerie, in particular in its functions of judicial police, for the exemplarity, the efficiency, the discretion, the incisiveness of its action, often carried out in objectively difficult conditions and far from the attention of the media.”
Words just as commendatory toward the gendarmeria were expressed by Benedict XVI in the course of the unprecedented audience he granted on January 11 “to demonstrate to the corps," a statement from the Holy See explained, “his encouragement and his gratitude after a period in which it had to respond to particularly demanding challenges.”
Obviously the reference of the pope, implicit here as well, is to Vatileaks.
Benedict XVI thanked the gendarmes for “the laudable availability” with which they offer their “valuable work,” expressing esteem, encouragement, and appreciation for the work carried out “with discretion, competence, and efficiency, and not without sacrifice.”
The pope added: “almost every day, I have the opportunity to meet with some of you in the various positions of service and to see your professionalism in person.”
With words of particular delicacy, Benedict XVI also urged the officers of the armed corps to “foster ever more relationships of trust capable of supporting and encouraging all the members of the Vatican gendarmeria, including in difficult moments.” A reference, perhaps, to the sad episode that took place in September of 2007 when a young gendarme killed himself with a pistol in the Vatican barracks.
In addition to the unprecedented fact of the audience in itself - there is no record, in fact, of a collective audience of this kind - another special aspect was that the Vatican press office sent in advance to journalists by e-mail not only the text of the pope, but also that of the greeting of the “director” - this is the formal office - of the corps of the gendarmeria, Domenico Giani, promoted to this position in June of 2006 after having been since 1999 the vice-inspector vicar and previously an officer of the financial police operating in the Italian secret service.
In his warm greeting, Giani thanked the pope for the “profound significance” of his gesture. “Having wanted us today, all together, here with you,” he said, “is a sign that makes us proud.” And he also addressed his superiors (cardinals Tarcisio Bertone and Giuseppe Bertello, as well as Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca), calling them “true pastors, leaders, and - if I may permit myself - friends.”
After thanking Archbishop Georg Gänswein as well in his twofold capacity as the new prefect of the pontifical household and the pope's personal secretary, Giani then said:
"With the whole family of the Vatican we feel that we are serving - each one according to his own competency - like little Cyrenians you, Holy Father, who bear on your shoulders the weight of humanity because of the ponderous service that the Lord has entrusted to you as supreme pastor of the Church.”
The gesture in itself and the warmth of the remarks made are rather evident signs of how the role of the pontifical gendarmeria, and of its commander in particular, have notably gained importance following the Vatileaks affair, partly by virtue of the cutting-edge equipment recently installed for monitoring the territory of the tiny state.