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 accusations 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.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield
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