Trial starts for Pope’s butler who ‘stole and leaked’ papal letters to expose ‘evil and corruption’ in Roman Catholic church

By Ruth Whitehead

PUBLISHED:11:11 EST, 29  September 2012| UPDATED:11:11 EST, 29 September 2012

The Vatican today opened the trial of the  Pope’s butler for allegedly stealing and leaking papal correspondence to a  journalist, the worst security breach to occur in the Vatican’s recent  history.

Paolo Gabriele, a 46-year-old father of  three, faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted of aggravated theft  in what has become known as the ‘Vatileaks’ scandal.

Gabriele, who the Pope nicknamed ‘Paoletto’  or little Paul, has already confessed, saying he acted to  shed light on what he  called ‘evil and corruption’ in the church.

Trial: Paolo Gabriele (right) is accused of stealing  confidential papal documents and and leaking them to a journalist

He said he wanted to help root it out  ‘because the pope was not sufficiently  informed’. He has asked to be pardoned  by the Pope – something  Vatican-watchers say will happen if he is  convicted.

While the Holy See has seen its fair share of  sensational trials – in 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake after being  condemned by a Vatican court for heresy – this is the most high-profile case to  come before the three-judge panel since  the creation of the Vatican City state in 1929.

Gabriele, who was replaced as papal butler  after his arrest on 24  May, is accused of taking the pope’s correspondence, photocopying the documents  and passing them to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.

Before the storm: Paolo Gabriele pictured with Pope  Benedict and his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, less than three  weeks before Gabriele’s arrest in May

Nuzzi published some  of the contents of the leaked documents in his book ‘His Holiness:  The secret papers of Pope Benedict XVI,’ which was published to great fanfare in  May.

The most damaging letter reproduced in the  book was written by the former No. 2 Vatican administrator to the Pope, in which  he begged not to be transferred as punishment for exposing alleged corruption in  the awarding of Vatican contracts. The  prelate, Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano, is now the Vatican’s U.S.  ambassador.

Nuzzi has said his source, code-named ‘Maria’  in the book, wanted to shed light on the secrets of the church that were  damaging it.

Small courtroom: only eight journalists are allowed in  to the Vatican tribunal at a time and members of the public would need the  judges’ permission to attend

Taken as a whole, the documents seem aimed  primarily at discrediting Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone,  the Vatican secretary of state and Benedict’s longtime deputy. Bertone, 77, a  canon lawyer and football enthusiast, has frequently been criticised for  perceived shortcomings in running the Vatican.

Quiet: Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s former butler, did not  speak during this morning’s session and did not enter a plea. He faces four  years in jail if found guilty, although the pope could choose to pardon  him

This morning’s proceedings opened in the  austere, wood-trimmed courtroom of the Vatican tribunal, housed in a four-story  palazzo inside the walls of Vatican City.

Gabriele, who was arrested in May and has  been been living under house arrest since July, appeared looking pale but  smiling often. He did not speak at the  first session and he did not enter a plea.

During the two-and-a-half-hour session the  court heard that some 82 boxes of documents were seized during searches of Mr  Gabriele’s grace-and-favour apartment and at the Pope’s summer residence south  of Rome, Castel Gandolfo.

Proceedings were adjourned until Tuesday,  when Gabriele will be questioned. The trial heard that 13 people are listed to  appear as witnesses, including the Pope’s private secretary, Georg Gaenswein,  the deputy head of the Vatican’s Swiss Guards, and the head of the Vatican  Gendarmerie.

However, in a blow for Gabriele, it was also  revealed that the trial would not admit evidence from a special commission of  cardinals that has been investigating the affair on behalf of the Pope himself,  despite a plea from Gabriele’s lawyer, Cristiana Azzu, that it be considered.

Scandal: ‘Vatileaks’ has caused shockwaves within the  walls of the Vatican

The commission’s inquiries are thought to  deal with some of the most sensitive matters raised by the case. Instead, the  trial will be based only on an investigation by a Vatican prosecutor and Vatican  police.

Explosive: Many of the leaked documents appeared in a  book by journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi called ‘His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI’s  secret papers’

The trial is expected to be wrapped up in  four further hearings in the coming week, before a meeting of top-level of  bishops from all over the world opens in Rome on Sunday 7 October.

Today’s hearing was also told that Claudio  Sciarpelletti, a Vatican computer technician who is accused of aiding and  abetting the butler, will be tried separately. He faces up to a year in jail.

If he and Mr Gabriele are found guilty they  will serve their time in an Italian jail as the Vatican does not have a prison  of its own.

Access to Gabriele’s trial is limited, in  part due to space constraints: while the court is technically open to the  public, those requesting access must petition the judges to be allowed in.

Eight journalists will  be selected to attend each session and report back to the Vatican press corps.  No television, still cameras or recording devices are allowed, and the court  transcripts won’t be available to the public.

Journalists covering the trial were required  to leave their mobile telephones outside during the proceedings, and a written  note delivered to the Vatican press office confirmed that the trial was indeed  under way.

Sadness: Pope Benedict said news of the scandal had  ‘brought sadness in my heart’. If Gabriele is found guilty, Vatican observers  say it is probable that the Pope could pardon him

Observers say the Vatican’s willingness to  proceed with the trial at all can be seen as an indication of its efforts to  show new transparency in its inner workings.

Pope Benedict could have pardoned Gabriele as  soon as he was arrested or charged,  precluding any trial from getting off the ground. Instead he allowed the trial  to go ahead, evidence of the ‘courage’ the Vatican is showing to be more  transparent, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.

Gabriele has told Italian television he was  not working alone, but had as many as 20 collaborators. It is thought as the  trial continues the identities may be revealed of others involved in the  scandal, who are identified in a Vatican  prosecutors’ document only by letters, such as B, W, X and Y.

Prosecutors quoted Gabriele as saying during  his interrogation that he knew taking the documents was wrong, but that he felt  the Holy Spirit was inspiring him to shed light on the problems he saw around  him. He said he felt the pope was  being kept in the dark or misinformed by his collaborators.

‘Seeing evil and corruption everywhere in the  church … I was sure that a shock, even a media one, would have been healthy to  bring the church back on the right track,’ Gabriele was quoted by prosecutors as  saying during a interrogation on 5  June.

They quoted him as saying he never intended  to hurt the church or Pope Benedict.

Clerics have lamented how the episode  shattered the trust and discretion that characterise 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.

Benedict himself addressed the scandal for  the first time a week after Gabriele was arrested, saying the news had ‘brought  sadness in my heart’.

But in a nod to his continued confidence in  Bertone, he added: ‘I want to renew  my trust in and encouragement of my closest collaborators and all those who  every day, with loyalty and a spirit of sacrifice and in silence, help me  fulfill my ministry.’

Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Exit mobile version