The last criminal to be bludgeoned to death under papal jurisdiction was, I think, Giuseppe Franconi, on 24 January 1826, a Tuesday. It was in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. If his crime hadn’t been aggravated murder, he’d have been guillotined like everyone else (a method the Papal States picked up during their occupation by the French), instead of being banged on the head with a large mallet, writes Christopher Hawse in The Tablet.
When Dickens heard about an execution in Rome in 1846 he hurried to the scene. His description is as violent as you’d expect, or more so. I’d hesitate to quote it here. But we British needn’t be smug, for the statute of Henry VIII that provided for poisoners to be boiled to death was repealed only in 1863.
I mention this by way of consolation for Paolo Gabriele, the Pope’s former butler, just convicted for stealing documents, which found their way into a book, which I can’t say that I’ve read. “Pope’s old butler on theft rap” read the headline on the Sunday Mirror’s short report.
By “old” it meant “former”, since he’s only 46. He’s also charged, noted Michael Day in The Independent’s big pre-trial double-page backgrounder, with stealing “a gold nugget, a sixteenth-century copy of The Aeneid and a cheque made out to Benedict for €100,000”. Yet, when convicted, Mr Gabriele received 18 months in an Italian jail.
It’s a neat formula for the Vatican to try people and Italy to punish them. As for execution, the Vatican divested itself of even the possibility in 1969, under good Pope Paul. The change in the law was duly announced – in Latin. “The Vatican said today that it abolished the death penalty a year and a half ago,” The New York Times reported on 15 January 1971, with a note of surprise. “The abolition went virtually unnoticed.”
In a similar way, “the fact that the butler’s trial is open to the public may strike some as unusual”, wrote Philip Pullella, of Reuters, in The Independent on Sunday. “In fact, such trials in the Vatican’s civil and penal tribunal are routinely public. They just don’t happen very often or attract much attention.”
FULL STORY It’s a neat formula for the Vatican to try people and Italy to punish them (Tablet)
Butler's trial a sideshow to a larger scandal (Tablet)