Paolo Gabriele on trial in the Vatican for aggravated theft. Link to this video
Benedict XVI’s former butler has gone on trial in the Vatican for stealing and leaking private documents while in the pope’s employ.
Paolo Gabriele, 46, who dressed the pope and travelled with him on public occasions, faces up to four years in jail after Vatican police discovered piles of stolen letters in his apartment, as well as gifts meant for Benedict, including a cheque for €100,000 (£80,000) and a gold nugget.
Gabriele had leaked the choicest letters to an Italian journalist, lifting the lid on accusations of kickbacks paid to win Vatican contracts, infighting among cardinals and claims the pope’s secretary of state started rumours of homosexuality against a hostile newspaper editor.
Placed under custody in a secure room at the Vatican, the father of three confessed but claimed he was an agent of the Holy Spirit, seeking to expose and root out the “evil and corruption”. An expert appointed by his lawyer suggested Gabriele was a victim of “restlessness, tension, rage and frustration”.
Gabriele’s case is being heard by three lay judges within the Vatican’s wood-panelled court and is likely to shed light on the secret world within the world’s smallest state. It is being held on a Saturday, because it is when the judges, who work in Italy‘s court system, have a free day.
Only eight journalists were allowed into the courtroom for the first session. Although present in court, Gabriele did not speak. He is due to answer questions at a second hearing on Tuesday.
During the hearing, the judges ruled that the results of a separate investigation carried out by cardinals for the pope and requested by the defence could not be admitted as evidence in the trial.
The Vatican’s justice system tries about 30 cases a year, mainly pickpockets arrested in St Peter’s Square.
Vatican officials have hinted that Benedict, who nicknamed Gabriele “Paoletto” or little Paul, may use his papal prerogative to hand Gabriele a quick pardon, but warned that more staffers at the Holy See may yet be arrested as detectives hunt other moles they believe are still at large.
Gabriele has claimed 20 people were involved in squirrelling embarrassing documents out of the Vatican and fresh clues may be provided by a separate investigation carried out by three senior cardinals who reported to the pope this summer.
Claudio Sciarpelletti, a Vatican staffer who was allegedly handed documents to hand to Gabriele by two people, mysteriously referred to in the court documents as X and W, is also due to stand trial as an accessory. However, the court decided to separate his trial from that of Gabriele’s.
The court also decided Saturday during the first hearing of the case to separate the trial of the butler, Paolo Gabriele, and that of his co-defendant, a Vatican computer expert.
Gabriele’s arrest comes nearly five months after a string of documents and private letters found their way into the Italian media. One of the most notorious were letters written to the pope by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, currently the Vatican’s ambassador to Washington, who was deputy governor of the Vatican City at the time.
In one, Vigano complains that when he took office in 2009, he discovered corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to outside companies at inflated prices. He later wrote to the pope about a smear campaign against him by other Vatican officials who were upset that he had taken drastic steps to clean up the purchasing procedures.
If the pope decides not to pardon Gabriele, he is expected to serve time in an Italian jail.
Giovanni Maisto, an Italian commentator, said he was hopeful that the trial could mark “a new dimension of openness and transparency” in the church’s affairs.