ROME – According to Italian media reports, a middle-aged Italian Vatican employee was caught trying to sell stolen goods online, after one of the items was identified by the original owner. 

The man in question was a 54-year-old Italian who was caught selling a stolen Hamilton watch, a brand that can cost anywhere from 500-1000 euros ($541-1082) or more, online. 

He was caught after the owner of the watch filed a complaint with police at Rome’s Porta Pia station after the watch and other valuable items were stolen from his home, and after having seen the watch for sale on a second-hand online site. 

Officers arranged a sting operation in which they posed as a potential buyer of the watch and organized a meeting with the seller near the area of Giulio Cesare in Rome. 

Once the officers determined the watch being sold was in fact the one that was stolen, they searched the 54-year-old man, who was not identified, but who apparently arrived at the meeting in a car with Vatican City State license plates, marked with the letters “SCV.”

The man was found by police to be a warehouse worker at the Vatican.

While conducting a search of his home in collaboration with members of the Vatican Gendarme Corps, police seized numerous watches of considerable value as well as items used to determine the authenticity and guarantee of their quality and price tags for the watches. 

Cash amounting to 5,000 euros ($5,400) was also found that had been stashed in different rooms in the man’s house, and, while conducting the search, Vatican Gendarmes found other valuable materials in addition to the watches. 

The man is apparently not in custody, but is under surveillance, while an investigation is being conducted into how he obtained the stolen goods, and where they came from.  

Reports on the case did not indicate whether a legal process will also be initiated inside Vatican City, or whether it will remain in the hands of Italian police, with the collaboration of Vatican Gendarmes. 

In 2021, a similar minor crime was committed when a man was caught shoplifting from a Vatican warehouse, stealing three items of clothing from a Vatican storage area. 

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, who was never identified, confessed to the shoplifting on Nov. 12, 2020, shortly after the second incident took place.

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In a legal proceeding launched by the Vatican, the man denied any culpability due to his psychological state at the time, which his lawyer asking that a psychiatric report be conducted on grounds that both the man and his wife, who held prominent positions at two separate Roman hospitals, were well off financially, and had no need to steal.

Italian media reported at the time that the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, rejected that request, citing specific provisions regarding mental illness in the Vatican’s penal code, as well as difficulty in determining the man’s exact mental state and intentions at the time the acts were committed.  

The Vatican tribunal recently concluded a separate case against climate activists, Guido Viero, 61, and Ester Goffi, 26, entered the Vatican Museums and glued their hands to the base of the famed “Laocoön and Sons” statue, considered to be among the most important ancient works in the Vatican collection and which is believed to date to the 1st century. A third activist, Laura Zorzini, filmed the episode.

The activists, who belonged to the Ultima Generazione, or “Last Generation” environmental group, also hung a banner reading, “Last Generation: No gas and no carbon.”

Viero, Goffi, and Zorzini were all charged in a Vatican trial with disobeying police orders and aggravated damage, as restorers had to remove the adhesive used and refurbish the stone.

In a decree in June 2023, Italian jurist Giuseppe Pignatone, head of the Vatican tribunal, sentenced both Viero and Goffi to a nine-month suspended prison sentence and 1500 euro fine ($1612) for aggravated damages, as well as an additional 120 euro fine ($129) for disobeying “an order legally given by the competent authority.”

They were also ordered to pay trial costs and a fine of 1,000 euros ($1075) for the state-appointed legal representation they received. During the trial, both had been offered a defense lawyer who is an expert in canon law by the Vatican, as they claimed they could not afford their own attorney.

In addition, they were ordered to pay 28,148 euros ($30,261) in damages done to the Laocoön statue.

Zorzini was also ordered to pay the 120 euro fine for disregarding “an order legally given by the competent authority.”

The activists appealed the decision, however the Vatican’s Court of Appeals last month confirmed the conviction and sentences.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen