ROME – On Thursday the Vatican’s criminal tribunal held a hearing for the crime of shoplifting from one of the storage areas in the small city-state, with the defendant denying culpability due to his psychological state at the time.

During brief the April 15 hearing, which only lasted about 15 minutes, the charges were announced, and the next hearing was scheduled for June 23.

Present for the hearing were the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice Alessandro Diddi, the applied Promoter of Justice Gianluca Perone, the President of the Vatican tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, as well as the accused and his lawyer, Angelo Coccia.

In the Vatican, an “applied” promotor of justice is brought in only when asked for certain cases.

According to the charges read during the hearing, the defendant is accused of stealing three items of clothing from a Vatican storage area by “hiding them on himself” with the “aggravated circumstance that these clothing items were intended to be displayed or sold.”

The items were apparently stolen in two separate instances: one item was stolen in October 2020 and two were stolen in November 2020.

The defendant confessed to the shoplifting Nov. 12, 2020, shortly after the second incident took place.

Coccia, the defendant’s lawyer, asked that a psychiatric report be conducted based on a previous report that had already been carried out by a “Professor Barbieri,” whose full name was not specified.

In his remarks, Coccia said the thefts occurred during a specific psychological episode, arguing that nothing about his client or his client’s situation would otherwise logically justify why he chose to shoplift.

Both the accused and his wife hold prominent positions at two separate hospitals in Rome. The man’s annual salary alone is roughly 100,000 euros ($119,700).

Given the family’s financial and job status, this “raises doubts about the situation” in which the thefts occurred, Coccia said, “because there is no logic, unless there were conditions related to stress that diminished the accused’s ability to understand and want.”

Specifically, Coccia explained that when the thefts occurred, the accused was returning from duty in the intensive care unit of the hospital where he worked. The report conducted by Professor Barbieri, Coccia said, would show that the theft “was carried out without intentionality or the ability to understand.”

On this basis, Coccia asked that his client be excluded from fault and requested an evaluation from an expert.

Perone, the Vatican’s applied promoter of justice, opposed this request on grounds that “there is no situation of hardship,” and because of what he said was the “intrinsic questionability” of the report conducted.

Diddi, the promoter of justice, added that according to the Vatican’s penal code mental illness involves a stable condition, not an illness related to stress, and that the amount of stress the accused was experiencing at the time of the thefts cannot be defined with any certainty.

Nor can it be determined exactly to what extent this stress effected his intentionality and understanding regarding what he did, Diddi said.

In response, Coccia noted that article 46 of the penal code speaks of “illness of the mind,” and not “mental illness,” and reiterated his request for an expert report to be conducted.

At the close of the brief hearing, Pignatone maintained that the Court reserves the right to decide both on the possibility of allowing an expert opinion, and on the admission of any witnesses at the next hearing, which was scheduled for June 23.

While this case is unusual, it is not the only one on the Vatican tribunal’s agenda.

The court is currently hearing another case that has been going on for several months involving two priests who attended a minor seminary associated with St. Peter’s Basilica, one of whom is accused of sexually abusing a younger boy while a seminarian, and the other with covering it up.

Several witnesses have already been called to give testimony as part of the trial, and more hearings are on the schedule for the coming months. It is not yet clear when a judgement will be made.

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