Pope’s butler denies theft but admits photocopying papers
THE Pope’s former butler said yesterday he was innocent of aggravated theft of the pontiff’s private correspondence, but acknowledged that he photocopied the papers.
Paolo Gabriele also said he felt guilty of betraying the trust of Pope Benedict XVI, whom he said he loved as if he were his father.
He took the stand yesterday in a Vatican courtroom to defend himself against accusations that he was responsible for one of the most damaging scandals of Benedict’s pontificate.
Prosecutors say Gabriele stole papal letters and documents alleging power struggles and corruption inside the Vatican and leaked them to a journalist in an unprecedented papal security breach.
Gabriele faces four years in prison if he is found guilty, although most Vatican watchers expect he will receive a papal pardon if convicted.
Prosecutors have said Gabriele, 46, has confessed to leaking copies of the documents to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, because he wanted to expose “evil and corruption” in the church. They quoted him as saying in an interrogation in June that even though he knew taking the documents was wrong, he felt inspired by the Holy Spirit “to bring the church back on the right track”.
Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre asked Gabriele yesterday if he stood by his confession. Gabriele responded: “Yes.”
Asked, though, by his attorney Cristiana Arru how he responded to the charge of aggravated theft, Gabriele said: “I declare myself innocent concerning the charge of aggravated theft. I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would.”
He insisted he had no accomplices, though he acknowledged many people inside the Vatican, including cardinals, trusted him and would come to him with their problems and concerns. .
He acknowledged he photocopied papal documentation, but insisted he did so in plain view of others and during daylight office hours, using the photocopier in the office he shared with the Pope’s two private secretaries.
The trial opened over the weekend inside the small ground-floor tribunal in the Vatican’s courthouse tucked behind St Peter’s Basilica. Judge Dalla Torre has said he expects it to be over within three more hearings.
In addition to Gabriele, the court heard from four witnesses, including the Pope’s top private secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, who along with Gabriele was the closest assistant to the pontiff.
Monsignor Gaenswein testified that he began having suspicions about Gabriele after he realised three documents that appeared in Mr Nuzzi’s book could only have come from the office he shared with Gabriele and Benedict’s other secretary.
“This was the moment when I started to have my doubts,” he said.
The book, His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI’s private papers, became a bestseller when published in May, detailing intrigue and scandal inside the Vatican. The leaked documents seemed aimed at discrediting Benedict’s aide Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Monsignor Gaenswein said as soon as he read the book, he asked the Pope’s permission to convene a meeting of the papal family to ask who had taken the documents.
One member of the papal family, Cristina Cernetti, one of the Pope’s four housekeepers, told the court she knew instantly that Gabriele was to blame since no-one else had the access he enjoyed.
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