By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The latest
trial seemed to have all the makings of a classic courtroom thriller: financial
scandal, secrets leaked by an insider and journalists defending their right to
blow the whistle on allegations of corruption within a state that is the seat
of the Roman Catholic Church.
But the Vatican courtroom, located
several feet from St. Peter’s Basilica, is not at all like a typical courtroom,
much less like ones depicted on TV shows such as “Law and Order” and
“Judge Judy” or classic dramas like “A Few Good Men.”
Unlike Italy, where it can take years before
a final verdict is reached in a trial, Vatican City State is governed by its own laws and
procedures, which on
a few occasions have led to a relatively quick verdict.
Such was the case with the first
trial. The trial of Paolo Gabriele, the
personal assistant to Pope Benedict XVI charged with leaking private documents,
began Oct. 2, 2012,
and concluded with a guilty verdict after just four days.
However, due to the complexities
of the “VatLeaks
II” case, any hopes for a quick trial were dashed early on.
“I wanted the trial to conclude before December 8 for the Year
of Mercy, but I don’t think this can be done since I want all the defendants’
lawyers to have time to prepare their defenses,” Pope Francis said on his
return flight from Africa
Allowing for more defense
preparation isn’t the only factor contributing to a more lengthy trial this
First, there are five defendants. The prosecutors and defense
attorneys make their cases not in front of a jury, but before three
judges led by Giuseppe Della Torre, head of the tribunal of the Vatican City
All statements from the tribunal
judges, lawyers and witnesses are transcribed and read back to the court after
each session by the
court reporter, a necessary function carried out in a somewhat archaic manner.
A typical courtroom stenographer
in the United States must pass dictation speed tests of up to 225 words a
minute, something generally lacking in the Vatican courtroom.
Instead, a young, two-finger
typist seated next to the defendants furiously types away on a laptop,
perspiration dripping from his brow as another courtroom official dressed in a
black robe looks over his shoulder to ensure the accuracy of his transcription,
often pointing to the screen and instructing him to change mistakes.
The clerk will at times raise his
hand, motioning whoever is speaking — even the lead judge — to hold off while
his colleague catches up transcribing the last statement.
At the end of the session, which can
sometimes last several hours, the clerk reads the entire transcription over.
Occasionally, the clerk will be interrupted by a lawyer, the judge or a witness
who will clarify a statement.
During the May 7 session, Judge Della
Torre took to repeating each question and the heart of the answer spoken in court to ensure that the recorded
answers were objective and pertinent to the question.
Della Torre also made sure people
in the courtroom understood a Vatican trial would not include the kind of dramatic outbursts
often seen on American TV. For example, Rita Claudia Baffioni —
an attorney for Nicola Maio, who is accused of aiding
in leaking the documents — objected to several questions she said were
misleading the witness.
Chaouqui, another defendant and a member of the
former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the
Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, also interrupted the
proceedings shortly after Baffioni,
complaining that the line of questioning made it seem she had something to
an American trial,” Della Torre quipped, adding that each of the
defendants’ lawyers must
wait their turn to question the witness after the prosecution.
drew the attention of the judge when she interrupted once again, telling the
court she was almost nine
months pregnant and that the length of the trial was too discomforting.
Torre quickly reminded her that as long as her lawyer is present, she was never obliged to
be present at the proceedings due to her physical state.
“No, I want to stay,” she replied.
though the trial — which was to have its 13th session May 14 — has all the
ingredients for drama and intrigue, Della Torre often finds himself playing the role of both
judge and director, reminding people that there will be order, even in a place
as unique as a Vatican courtroom.
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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.
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