Tag Archives: Italy

Cocaine investigation leads to discovery of 2 Van Gogh paintings

Police investigating suspected Italian mobsters for cocaine trafficking discovered two Vincent Van Gogh paintings hidden in a farmhouse near Naples, masterpieces that had vanished in 2002 during a nighttime heist at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, authorities said this past week.

The two paintings were “considered among the artworks most searched for in the world, on the FBI’s list of the Top 10 art crimes,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

They were found in a farmhouse near Castellammare di Stabia as Italian police seized some 20 million euros ($22 million) worth of assets, including farmland, villas and apartments and a small airplane.

Investigators contend those assets are linked to two Camorra drug kingpins, Mario Cerrone and Raffaele Imperiale, according to a statement by prosecutors Giovanni Colangelo and Filippo Beatrice.

The recovered masterpieces, propped up on easels, were unveiled for reporters at a news conference in Naples.

Museum director Axel Rueger said Italian investigators contacted the museum earlier in the week and art experts determined the paintings were authentic.

“Needless to say, it’s a great day for us today,” Rueger told Sky TG24 TV. “We hope they are soon back where they belong.”

With their frames removed and covered by cotton cloths, the paintings appeared to be in relatively good condition despite their long odyssey, the museum said.

One of the paintings, the 1882 “Seascape at Scheveningen,” is one of Vincent Van Gogh’s first major works.

It depicts a boat setting off into a stormy sea, and the thick paint trapped grains of sand that blew up from the Dutch beach as Van Gogh worked on it over two days.

The other is a 1884-85 work, “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen,” which depicts a church in the southern Netherlands where the artist’s father was the pastor.

Experts believe it was done for Van Gogh’s mother.

Despite the wishes of the museum, the paintings are not leaving Italy anytime soon. They are evidence in an investigation of whether gangsters from the Camorra crime syndicate were behind the original theft or might have become involved with the artworks later.

The Camorra is one of Italy’s three largest organized crime syndicates, with the Calabria-based ‘ndrangheta by far the most powerful. The Camorra consists of many crime clans, based in Naples as well as many of the Campania region’s small towns.

Financial Police. Col. Giovanni Salerno said investigators looking into the syndicate’s cocaine trafficking operations got a tip that the Camorra might have the Van Gogh artworks.

“One of those being investigated made some significant comments about their illegal investments made with earnings from drug trafficking, and he indicated two paintings of great value that supposedly were purchased by Imperiale. They were the result of a theft carried out in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam almost 14 years ago,” Colangelo, the chief prosecutor in Naples, told reporters.

When renowned masterpieces are stolen, it’s usually a theft commissioned by a private collector who has already agreed to buy them, since it’s virtually impossible to sell them in the legitimate art market.

The Camorra and other Italian crime syndicates, awash in illegal revenues from drug trafficking, designer-goods counterfeiting and toxic waste dealings, are increasingly looking to launder their dirty profits and make even more money in the process.

Salerno said a person at the farmhouse when the paintings were found “didn’t say a word” about how they wound up there. He declined to elaborate, saying the case is still under investigation.

The museum said the paintings, inspected by a curator, do show “some damage.” Authorities don’t know where the paintings were kept in the 14 years since they were stolen by thieves who broke into the museum overnight and made off with the works from the main exhibition hall, where dozens of Van Gogh paintings were on display.

The seascape painting had some paint in the bottom left corner broken away, while the other painting had “a few minor damages at the edges of the canvas,” a museum statement said.

Police who arrived at the Amsterdam museum on Dec. 7, 2002, discovered a 4.5-meter (15-foot) ladder leaning against the rear of the building.

The thieves had apparently climbed up to the second floor using a ladder and broke in through a window, according to Dutch police at the time. Within a year, Dutch authorities had arrested two suspects, but the paintings’ whereabouts remained a mystery _ until Italian authorities searched the farmhouse.

“After all these years, you no longer dare count on a possible return,” Rueger said. “The paintings have been found! That I would be able to ever pronounce these words is something I had no longer dared to hope for.”

Van Gogh's "Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen." — PHOTO: WikiArt
Van Gogh’s “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen.” — PHOTO: WikiArt

Vatican gets embroiled in Italy’s ‘banned books’ fray

The Vatican has gotten embroiled in a modern-day, secular version of the Index of Banned Books.

The Holy See press office had to set the record straight on Aug. 28 after the Italian media interpreted a formulaic blessing by Pope Francis of a lesbian children’s book publisher and her partner as an endorsement of their same-sex relationship.

Author Francesca Pardi had written to Francis in June complaining about how her books — some of which deal with children growing up with gay, single and divorced parents — had been maligned by Catholic groups and politicians.

A half-dozen of her titles were among the 49 titles that Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro recently banned from public preschools pending a review of their appropriateness because they deal with gender issues.

Thinking that Francis might appreciate the books’ inclusive message, Pardi sent him copies of her 30 titles, explaining that they had nothing to do with “gender theory” or even sex but merely conveyed a message of tolerance.

A few weeks ago, an official in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, Monsignor Peter Wells, sent her a note in Francis’ name thanking her for the gesture, blessing her and her partner, and encouraging her to continue with her “activities in the service to young generations and the diffusion of authentic human and Christian values.”

Pardi says she didn’t take the letter by any means to be a papal endorsement of her lifestyle — she and her partner have four children together — but the Italian media interpreted it as such, prompting the Vatican to step in.

In a statement, the Vatican’s deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said the letter made clear that Francis was encouraging Pardi to pursue activities consistent with Christian values.

“The blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was directed to the person, not at any possible teachings that are not in line with the doctrine of the church on gender theory, which hasn’t changed a bit as the Holy Father has repeated even recently,” he said.

One of the “banned” titles, “Little Egg,” tells the story of an egg about to hatch that goes out in search of a family, and encountering a variety of different ones — two mothers, two fathers, single parents, bi-racial parents, “traditional” parents — concludes that any one of them would be great.

The review of the “banned books” by Venice’s mayor sparked outrage among gay and human rights groups, with sometimes Venice resident Elton John calling Brugnaro “boorishly bigoted.”

Venice’s review harked back to the Vatican’s own Index of Prohibited Books, the 16th century list of books deemed heretical by the Roman Inquisition. The Vatican in 1966 officially removed the ban from its law books.

Elton John: Mayor supporting removal of children’s books is ‘boorishly bigoted’

Elton John has slammed Venice’s conservative mayor over moves to remove books from public preschools dealing with gender issues and featuring same-sex couples.

The singer, who has a home in Venice, Italy, called Mayor Luigi Brugnaro “boorishly bigoted” in an Instagram post following the removal of some books from preschools pending an evaluation of their appropriateness. 

Brugnaro shot back on Twitter, saying, “The challenge is to give real resources for saving (hash)Venice,” adding in dialect: “Let’s get to facts, out with the cash (hash)Elton John.”

The mayor in a statement last month voiced reservations about several books with LGBT themes.

He said it would be decided over the school break who would make the selections “to avoid further diatribes.”

Oxbow Brewer makes beer with live lobsters

Oxbow Brewing in Maine is serving up beer brewed with live Maine lobsters and a dash of sea salt. 

Brewmaster Tim Adams says the lobsters were placed in a mesh bag and suspended in a kettle full of boiling wort during the brewing process.

He says the lobsters add a subtle brininess and sweetness that lobster fans will recognize. 

The beer is a saison-style beer brewed in collaboration with a brewery in Parma, Italy. It is 4.5 percent alcohol by volume and is available on a limited basis. The beer became available this summer.

Adams says the lobsters that were cooked in the brewing process were later eaten.

Pope criminalizes child sex abuse, Vatican leaks

Pope Francis overhauled the laws that govern the Vatican City State on July 11, criminalizing leaks of Vatican information and specifically listing sexual violence, prostitution and possession of child pornography as crimes against children that can be punished by up to 12 years in prison.

The legislation covers clergy and lay people who live and work in Vatican City and is different from the canon law which covers the universal Catholic Church.

The bulk of the Vatican’s penal code is based on the 1889 Italian code. Many of the new provisions were necessary to bring the city state’s legal system up to date after the Holy See signed international treaties, such as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Others were necessary to comply with international norms to fight money-laundering, part of the Vatican’s push toward financial transparency.

One new crime stands out, though, as an obvious response to the leaks of papal documents last year that represented one of the gravest Vatican security breaches in recent times.

Paolo Gabriele, the butler for then-Pope Benedict XVI, was tried and convicted by a Vatican court of stealing Benedict’s personal papers and giving them to an Italian journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi.

Using the documents, Nuzzi published a blockbuster book on the petty turf wars, bureaucratic dysfunction, allegations of corruption and reports of same-sex liaisons in the highest levels Catholic Church governance.

Gabriele, who said he wanted to expose the “evil and corruption” that plagued the Holy See, was convicted of aggravated theft and sentenced to 18 months in the Vatican’s police barracks. Benedict eventually pardoned him and he is a free man.

But his crime devastated the Vatican, shattering the confidentiality that typically governs correspondence with the pope.

In an indication of how serious the Vatican considers such confidentiality, the penalties for violations of the new law are stiff: Anyone who reveals or receives confidential information or documentation risks six months to two years in prison and a (euro) 2,000 euro ($2,500) fine; the penalty goes up to eight years in prison if the material concerns the “fundamental interests” of the Holy See or its diplomatic relations with other countries.

Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre, the president of the Vatican tribunal who presided over Gabriele’s trial, acknowledged this week that the Gabriele case could be seen as having an influence on the new crime, though he said the crime itself was “irrelevant” to the overall reform.

But the crime of leaking Vatican information never existed before in the Vatican legal system. Sexual crimes did exist, albeit in a general form in the archaic code as a crime against “good customs.”

The new law gives a broader definition of the crimes against children, including the sale of children, child prostitution, recruiting children, sexual violence, sexual acts with children and the production and possession of child pornography.

In the old code, such general crimes would have carried a maximum penalty of three to 10 years, the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. Under the revision, the punishments go from five to 10 years, with aggravating circumstances bringing the maximum up to 12 years, he said.

It considers a minor anyone under age 18, and allows Vatican prosecutors to pursue the case on their own even if the victim or his or her guardians choose not to make a criminal complaint.

Dalla Torre stressed that just because such acts are illegal now doesn’t mean they were legal before. It merely means that, 100 years ago, child pornography was not specified as a crime in either the Italian legal code or the Vatican’s. 

Top contenders to be the next pope

Cardinals from around the world gather beginning March 12 in a conclave to elect a new pope following the stunning resignation of Benedict XVI.

In the secretive world of the Vatican, there is no way to know who is in the running, and history has yielded plenty of surprises. Yet several names have come up repeatedly as strong contenders. Here is a look at who they are:

CARDINAL ANGELO SCOLA: Scola is seen as Italy’s best chance at reclaiming the papacy, following back-to-back pontiffs from outside the country that had a lock on the job for centuries. He’s also one of the top names among all of the papal contenders. Scola, 71, has commanded both the pulpits of Milan’s Duomo as archbishop and Venice’s St. Mark’s Cathedral as patriarch, two extremely prestigious church positions that together gave the world five popes during the 20th century. Scola was widely viewed as a papal contender when Benedict was elected eight years ago. His promotion to Milan, Italy’s largest and most influential diocese, has been seen as a tipping point in making him one of the leading papal candidates. He is known as a doctrinal conservative who is also at ease quoting Jack Kerouac and Cormac McCarthy.

CARDINAL ODILO SCHERER: Scherer is known for prolific tweeting, appearances on Brazil’s most popular late-night talk show and squeezing into the subway for morning commutes. Brazil’s best hope to supply the next pontiff is increasingly being touted as one of the top overall contenders. At the relatively young age of 63, he enthusiastically embraces all new methods for reaching believers, while staying true to a conservative line of Roman Catholic doctrine and hardline positions on social issues such as rejection of same-sex marriage. Scherer joined Twitter in 2011 and in his second tweet said: “If Jesus preached the gospel today, he would also use print media, radio, TV, the Internet and Twitter. Give Him a chance!” Scherer became the Sao Paulo archbishop in 2007 and was named a cardinal later the same year.

CARDINAL MARC OUELLET: Canada’s Ouellet once said that being pope “would be a nightmare.” He would know, having enjoyed the confidence of two popes as a top-ranked Vatican insider. His high-profile position as head of the Vatican’s office for bishops, his conservative leanings, his years in Latin America and his work in Rome as president of a key commission for Latin America all make him a favorite to become the first pontiff from the Americas. But the qualities that make the 68-year-old popular in Latin America – home to the world’s biggest Catholic population – and among the cardinals who elect the pope have contributed to his poor image in his native Quebec, where ironically he was perceived during his tenure as archbishop as an outsider parachuted in from Rome to reorder his liberal province along conservative lines.

CARDINAL PETER ERDO: Erdo is the son of a deeply religious couple who defied communist repression in Hungary to practice their faith. And if elected pope, the 60-year-old would be the second pontiff to come from eastern Europe – following in the footsteps of the late John Paul II, a Pole who left a great legacy helping to topple communism. A cardinal since 2003, Erdo is an expert on canon law and distinguished university theologian who has also striven to forge close ties to the parish faithful.  He is increasingly seen as a compromise candidate if cardinals are unable to rally around some of the more high-profile figures like Scola or Scherer.

CARDINAL GIANFRANCO RAVASI: Ravasi, the Vatican’s culture minister, is an erudite scholar with a modern touch – just the combination some faithful see as ideal for reviving a church beset by scandal and a shrinking flock. The 70-year-old is also one of the favorites among Catholics who long to see a return to the tradition of Italian popes. The polyglot biblical scholar peppers speeches with references ranging from Aristotle to late British diva Amy Winehouse. Ravasi’s foreign language prowess is reminiscent of that of the late globetrotting John Paul II: He tweets in English, chats in Italian and has impressed his audiences by switching to Hebrew and Arabic in some of his speeches.

CARDINAL PETER TURKSON: Ghana’s Turkson is viewed by many as the top African contender for pope. The 64-year-old head of the Vatican’s peace and justice office was widely credited with helping to avert violence following contested Ghanaian elections. He has aggressively fought African poverty, while disappointing many by hewing to the church’s conservative line on condom use amid Africa’s AIDS epidemic. Turkson’s reputation as a man of peace took a hit recently when he showed a virulently anti-Islamic video, a move now seen as hurting his papal prospects. Observers say those prospects sank further when he broke a taboo against public jockeying for the papacy – saying the day after Benedict’s resignation announcement that he’s up for the job “if it’s the will of God.”

CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN: Dolan, the 63-year-old archbishop of New York, is an upbeat, affable defender of Catholic orthodoxy, and a well-known religious figure in the United States. He holds a job Pope John Paul II once called “archbishop of the capital of the world.” His colleagues broke with protocol in 2010 and made him president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, instead of elevating the sitting vice president as expected. And during the 2012 presidential election, Republicans and Democrats competed over which national political convention the cardinal would bless. He did both. But scholars question whether his charisma and experience are enough for a real shot at succeeding Benedict.

CARDINAL JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO: Bergoglio, 76, has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests. The archbishop of Buenos Aires reportedly got the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election, and he has long specialized in the kind of pastoral work that some say is an essential skill for the next pope. In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Bergoglio has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly. Bergoglio is known for modernizing an Argentine church that had been among the most conservative in Latin America.

CARDINAL LEONARDO SANDRI: Leonardo Sandri, 69, is a Vatican insider who has run the day-to-day operations of the global church’s vast bureaucracy and roamed the world as a papal diplomat. He left his native Argentina for Rome at 27 and never returned to live in his homeland. Initially trained as a canon lawyer, he reached the No. 3 spot in the church’s hierarchy under Pope John Paul II, the zenith of a long career in the Vatican’s diplomatic service ranging from Africa to Mexico to Washington. As substitute secretary of state for seven years, he essentially served as the pope’s chief of staff. The jovial diplomat has been knighted in a dozen countries, and the church he is attached to as cardinal is Rome’s exquisite, baroque San Carlo ai Catinari.

CARDINAL LUIS ANTONIO TAGLE: Asia’s most prominent Roman Catholic leader knows how to reach the masses: He sings on stage, preaches on TV, brings churchgoers to laughter and tears with his homilies. And he’s on Facebook. But the 55-year-old Filipino’s best response against the tide of secularism, clergy sex abuse scandals and rival-faith competition could be his reputation for humility. His compassion for the poor and unassuming ways have impressed followers in his homeland, Asia’s largest Catholic nation, and church leaders in the Vatican. Tagle’s chances are considered remote, as many believe that Latin America or Africa – with their faster-growing Catholic flocks – would be more logical choices if the papal electors look beyond Europe.

CARDINAL CHRISTOPH SCHOENBORN: Schoenborn is a soft-spoken conservative who is ready to listen to those espousing reform. That profile could appeal to fellow cardinals looking to elect a pontiff with the widest-possible appeal to the world’s 1 billion Catholics. His Austrian nationality may be his biggest disadvantage: Electors may be reluctant to choose another German speaker as a successor to Benedict. A man of low tolerance for the child abuse scandals roiling the church, Schoenborn, 68, himself was elevated to the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy after his predecessor resigned 18 years ago over accusations that he was a pedophile.

CARDINAL MALCOLM RANJITH: Benedict XVI picked the Sri Lankan Ranjith to return from Colombo to the Vatican to oversee the church’s liturgy and rites in one of his first appointments as pope. The choice of Ranjith in 2005 rewarded a strong voice of tradition – so rigid that some critics regard it even as backward-looking. Ranjith in 2010 was named Sri Lanka’s second cardinal in history. There are many strikes against a Ranjith candidacy – Sri Lanka, for example, has just 1.3 million Catholics, less than half the population of Rome. But the rising influence of the developing world, along with the 65-year-old’s strong conservative credentials, helps keep his name in the mix of papal contenders.

CARDINAL ANDRES RODRIGUEZ MARADIAGA: To many, Maradiaga embodies the activist wing of the Roman Catholic Church as an outspoken campaigner of human rights, a watchdog on climate change and advocate of international debt relief for poor nations. Others, however, see the 70-year-old Honduran as a reactionary in the other direction: Described as sympathetic to a coup in his homeland and stirring accusations of anti-Semitism for remarks that some believe suggested Jewish interests encouraged extra media attention on church sex abuse scandals. Maradiaga, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, is among a handful of Latin American prelates considered to have a credible shot at the papacy.

CARDINAL ANGELO BAGNASCO: The archbishop of Genoa, Bagnasco also is head of the powerful Italian bishops’ conference. Both roles give him outsized influence in the conclave, where Italians represent the biggest national bloc, and could nudge ahead his papal chances if the conclave looks to return the papacy to Italian hands. At 70 years old, Bagnasco is seen as in the right age bracket for papal consideration. But his lack of international experience and exposure could be a major liability.

CARDINAL SEAN PATRICK O’MALLEY: As archbishop of Boston, O’Malley has faced the fallout from the church’s abuse scandals for nearly a decade. The fact he is mentioned at all as a potential papal candidate is testament to his efforts to bring together an archdiocese at the forefront of the abuse disclosures. Like other American cardinals, the papal prospects for the 68-year-old O’Malley suffer because of the accepted belief that many papal electors oppose the risk of having U.S. global policies spill over, even indirectly, onto the Vatican’s image. O’Malley is among the most Internet-savvy members of the conclave.

Venice objects to St. Petersburg anti-gay law

Venice, Italy, is seeking to break off cultural relations with St. Petersburg because of the Russian city’s legislation curbing gay rights.

The city council invoked Venice’s “history, international prestige and conscience” in a motion unanimously approved this week asking the city administration to refrain from cultural exchanges as long as anti-gay laws are in place.

The motion states, “The city of Venice cannot ignore what is happening in the institutions” and asked officials to communicate the reason for the unilateral action.

The two cultural jewels, Venice and St. Petersburg signed an agreement in 2006 to pursue cultural and other exchanges.

St. Petersburg is one of a number of Russian cities that have passed laws banning what they call “homosexual propaganda.” The Kremlin also is pushing such a law.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration said it was pulling out of a civil society dialogue with Russia to protest the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent and new laws against nongovernmental organizations. It also harshly criticized Russia’s parliament for advancing the legislation against “homosexual propaganda.”

Pope’s butler on trial for leaked papers

There was a time when a Vatican trial could end with a heretic being burned at the stake. Paolo Gabriele doesn’t risk nearly as a dire fate, but he and the Holy See face a very public airing over the gravest security breach in the Vatican’s recent history following the theft and leaking of the pope’s personal papers.

Gabriele, the pope’s once-trusted butler, goes on trial Saturday, accused of stealing the pope’s documents and passing them off to a journalist – a sensational, Hollywood-like scandal that exposed power struggles, intrigue and allegations of corruption in the highest levels of the Catholic Church.

Gabriele is charged with aggravated theft and faces six years in prison if convicted by the three-judge Vatican tribunal. He has already confessed and asked to be pardoned – something most Vatican watchers say is a given if he is convicted – making the trial almost a formality.

To be sure, trials are nothing new at the Vatican: In 2011 alone, 640 civil cases and 226 penal cases were processed by the Vatican’s judiciary, 99 percent of which involved some of the 18 million tourists who pass through the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica each year. And that’s not counting the marriage annulments, clerical sex abuse cases and other church law matters that come before the Vatican’s ecclesial courts.

Yet this most high-profile case will cast an unusually bright spotlight on the Vatican’s legal system, which is based on the 19th century Italian criminal code, and the rather unique situation in which the pope is both the victim and supreme judge in this case.

The Vatican is an elective absolute monarchy: The pope has full executive, legislative and judicial authority in the Vatican city state. He delegates that power through executive appointments, legislative commissions and tribunals, but by law he can intervene at any point in a judicial proceeding.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, has said he believes the trial will run its course without papal interference. But he has acknowledged the likelihood of a papal pardon.

Gabriele was arrested May 24 after Vatican police found what prosecutors called an “enormous” stash of documents from the pope’s desk in his Vatican City apartment. Many of those documents appeared in the book “His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI’s secret papers,” by Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian journalist whose earlier book on the Vatican bank caused a sensation.

Three days before the arrest, the pope’s secretary convened a meeting of the handful of people who make up the “papal family” – the pope’s two secretaries, four housekeepers, a longtime aide and the butler Gabriele – and asked if any of them had leaked the papers. Gabriel firmly denied it at the time, prosecutors said.

Gabriele later confessed to passing the documents off to Nuzzi, hoping to expose what he considered the “evil and corruption” in the church, according to prosecutors. They described Gabriele as a devout but misguided would-be whistle-blower who believed the Holy Spirit had inspired him to protect and inform the pope about the problems around him.

“I was sure that a shock, even a media one, would have been healthy to bring the Church back on the right track,” prosecutors quoted Gabriele as saying during a June interrogation.

Gabriele is being tried along with a co-defendant, Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer expert in the Secretariat of State who is charged with aiding and abetting Gabriele.

While the Vatican legal system will be on display during the trial, so too will be the peculiarities of the Vatican city state itself, the world’s smallest sovereign state. Gabriele is both a Vatican citizen and resident of a Vatican City apartment (one of 595 citizens of whom 247 are residents). So the pope is not only Gabriele’s former boss, he is also his landlord, his spiritual head as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and his head of state, not to mention the authority who appointed the prosecutor and the three lay judges who will hear Gabriele’s case.

When it was first published in May, “His Holiness” became the most-talked about book in Italy and the Vatican, 273 pages of secrets about one of the most secretive institutions in the world. It included letters from a Vatican official detailing corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts, finger-pointing about who was to blame for leaking claims about homosexual liaisons, and the like.

None of the documents threatened the papacy. Most were of interest only to Italians, as they concerned relations between Italy and the Vatican and a few local scandals and personalities. But their very existence and the fact that they were taken from the pope’s own desk provoked an unprecedented reaction from the Vatican, with the pope naming a commission of cardinals to investigate alongside the Vatican magistrates.

Clerics have since lamented how the episode shattered the trust and discretion that characterize day-to-day life in the Vatican, with bishops now questioning whether to send confidential information to the pope for fear it may end up on the front page of a newspaper.

Journalist Nuzzi, for his part, remains calm despite his role as the other key protagonist in the case.

“The only thing I can say is that I strongly hope that the trial will unveil the motives and convictions that compelled Paolo Gabriele to bring to light documents and events described in the book,” he told The Associated Press this week.

Gabriele, a 46-year-old father of three, is being represented by attorney Cristiana Arru after his childhood friend, Carlo Fusco, quit as his lead attorney last month over differences in defense strategy.

The Vatican had said the trial would be open to the public, though access is limited and no cameras or audio is allowed. Eight journalists will attend each session and brief the Vatican press corps afterward.

There is no indication how long the trial will last, how many witnesses will be called or what Gabriele’s defense will be given that he has, according to prosecutors, confessed to taking the documents. One tantalizing potential witness is the pope’s personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, one of the few named witnesses in the indictment who first confronted Gabriele.

Prosecutors did order a psychiatric evaluation and determined that Gabriele was conscious of his actions, although they quoted the psychiatrists as saying he was unsuited for his job, was easily manipulated and suffered from “a grave psychological unease characterized by restlessness, tension, anger and frustrations.”

Despite the peculiarities of the Vatican’s legal system and the pope’s absolute authority over all things legislative, executive and judicial, at least one outside authority has deemed it credible and fair: A federal judge in New York last year dismissed a lawsuit against the Vatican concerning rights to reproduce images from the Vatican library, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to show they couldn’t get a fair hearing in the Vatican courts.

There has been no such vote of confidence for the Vatican’s onetime Congregation for the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition, the commission created in 1542 that functioned as a tribunal to root out heresy, punish crimes against the faith and name Inquisitors for the church.

One of its more famous victims was Giordano Bruno, burned in Rome in 1600 after being tried for heresy.

Rick Santorum’s communist Italian family dismayed

Rick Santorum’s extended family clan back in northern Italy is dismayed over his far-right political views, reports The Daily Beast.

Quoting extensively from interviews with Santorum family members that appeared in the Italian magazine Oggi, the article explores the political views of the GOP presidential contender’s family in the liberal northern Italian town of Riva del Garda.

Santorum refers frequently in stump speeches to his working-class Italian roots and the values they instilled in him. But, “There are Santorums who would roll over in their graves to hear (Santorum’s) rhetoric,” an angry cousin told Oggi. He recalled the time when high-ranking Communist Party members frequented the Santorum family home.

The wife of one of Santorum’s late cousins, 83-year-old-Maria Malacarne, characterized his views as close-minded.

“He would be a great president,” she told Oggi. “But if he wants to make it, he will have to soften some of his positions. To take a stand against homosexuality or to oppose divorce is harmful. Principles count, but in politics one must have the capacity to be open-minded.”

The article’s author explains how Santorum’s family were drawn to liberalism in response to the fascist political climate in Italy in the 1920s. Santorum’s grandfather Pietro Santorum fled Italy for America to escape it, the author says.

Ironically, in the United States, Fox News, right-wing radio and the Tea Party have attempted, with some success, to depict progressives and LGBT activists as part of the fascist and Nazi movements. The revisionist history spin has caught on with many uneducated voters.