The Pope’s butler has denied stealing private correspondence but admitted to betraying the trust of the pontiff, whom he said he loved like a son would his father.
Paolo Gabriele’s trial for aggravated theft began today in a Vatican courtroom, with prosecutors claiming he leaked details of power struggles and corruption from papal documents to a journalist.
The 46-year-old has confessed to passing on information, triggering one of the most damaging scandals of Pope Benedict XVI’s time in office.
But he told the court today that he was ‘innocent concerning the charge of aggravated theft’ although he felt ‘guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would.’
Gabriele also claims he was mistreated by police during his incarceration, and the judge has ordered prosecutors to investigate the allegations.
He says he was kept in a tiny cell at the headquarters of the Pope’s police force, with the lights on constantly, which he said contributed to his ‘psychological depression.’
He claims the cell he was kept in after his arrest was so narrow he could not stretch out his arms.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, insisted that the size of the cell, and the conditions under which Gabriele was held for just over two months, conformed to international standards.
Vatican police arrested the father of three after they found a stash of papal papers in his Vatican City home. In all, police carted off 82 boxes of papers, though not all of them were papal correspondence.
Prosecutors have quoted him as saying 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.’
He apparently wanted to expose ‘evil and corruption’, adding: ‘I was compelled also by my profound faith and desire that there should be light shed on everything in the church.’
Today is the first time the public have heard from the butler himself about the events that landed him in a Vatican detention facility on May 23.
The trial opened over the weekend in an intimate ground-floor room in the Vatican’s courthouse behind St. Peter’s Basilica.
On the opposite wall from where he sat was a photo of Benedict, his boss, the victim of the alleged crime, and the supreme judge in the case.
As an absolute monarch, Benedict has full judicial authority in the Vatican city state and can intervene to stop a trial. He delegates that power to the three-judge tribunal, but he can pardon Gabriele and most expect he will if there is a conviction.
Judge Giuseppe Della Torre has said he expects the trial to be over in about four more hearings.
Gabriele faces four years in prison if convicted.
The Pope’s private secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, said he began having suspicions about Gabriele after he realised three documents that appeared in the journalist’s book could only have come from the office he shared with Gabriele.
Other witnesses will include one of the four consecrated women who care for the Pope’s household, Cristina Cernetti.
Her testimony could shed light on the deeply private world of the small ‘papal family’ who live, eat and pray together with the 85-year-old leader of the Catholic church.
The Pope’s entourage returned to Rome on Monday after spending the summer in the papal retreat of Castel Gandolfo.
Gabriele has said he handed the documentation to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book ‘His Holiness: The secret papers of Pope Benedict XVI’, was published to great fanfare in May.