Pope’s Former Butler on Trial in Theft of Personal Papers

Elisabetta Povoledo – New York Times September 29, 2012

 Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, went on trial on Saturday on charges of stealing the pope’s confidential papers and leaking them to the press, an unprecedented security breach that set off an embarrassingly public airing of back-room intrigue and allegations of corruption at an institution known for its secrecy.

Mr. Gabriele appeared tired but serene throughout the two-hour hearing, which was held in a sparsely furnished, wood-paneled courtroom in a Vatican City palazzo behind the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The morning was taken up with legal formalities, and the secular court — formed by a panel of three judges — granted motions to strike some of the evidence gathered against Mr. Gabriele and to split off the trial of a co-defendant, a Vatican computer expert charged with aiding and abetting.

A spokesman for the Vatican, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the atmosphere in the courtroom was “serene.” TV cameras and recording equipment were not admitted, and a pool of eight reporters allowed inside briefed other journalists after the hearing.

Mr. Gabriele, who has admitted taking the documents, faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted of aggravated theft. He is scheduled to take the stand at a hearing on Tuesday. Despite his admission of guilt, the trial must proceed because under Vatican law, there is no plea bargaining, and judges must independently verify the facts of a case.

The trial of Mr. Gabriele, 46, caps a turbulent moment for the Roman Catholic Church, racked by a pedophilia scandal involving some of its clergymen, a power struggle with American nuns over church doctrine, and challenges to preserve its moral authority within rapidly changing societies. Some of the leaked documents opened an especially unflattering vista onto some questionable administrative practices as well as inner wrangling at the Vatican.

Among them were letters written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò fretting that he had made enemies within the Curia and beyond after rooting out corruption and financial mismanagement in the Vatican City administration. In the letters, Archbishop Viganò, who was then the second-ranking official in the part of the Curia that administers Vatican City, asked to be allowed to continue cleaning up the Holy See’s financial affairs.

Instead, he was removed from his post and named the papal nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States.

The hunt for the source of the leaks led to Mr. Gabriele, a father of three who had worked in the Vatican for 20 years and was discovered to have stashed what prosecutors described as a “vast quantity” of confidential documents in his Vatican City apartment.

He passed some to an Italian journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published them in May in his book “His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Pope Benedict XVI.”

The butler was arrested in May, and later released to house arrest. An investigation into the charges led to a formal indictment in August.

Court records show that Mr. Gabriele told the judge examining the case that he saw “evil and corruption everywhere in the church,” and believed that he had to expose it because the pope “was not correctly informed” about what was going on. The shock of public exposure, he told investigators, “could be a healthy thing to bring the church back on the right track.”

Psychiatric evaluations determined that Mr. Gabriele knew what he was doing but also that he was angry, frustrated and easily manipulated.

After his arrest, Mr. Gabriele wrote a letter to the pope asking for forgiveness, according to Carlo Fusco, one of his lawyers at the time. It is not known if the pope responded to the letter.

The pope appointed a commission of three cardinals to investigate separately, and they reported their findings — which remain confidential — to the pope this summer.

This is the highest-profile court case in years to take place in a tribunal that has preserved the procedures of a 19th-century Italian penal code and handles only a few dozen, mostly insignificant, cases a year. If convicted and sentenced to prison, Mr. Gabriele will serve the time in an Italian prison, because the Vatican does not have one. But it is widely believed that the pope will grant a pardon.

In addition to Mr. Gabriele’s testimony, the court will hear from at least eight witnesses, including Msgr. Georg Gänswein, the pope’s personal secretary and his closest assistant. . Monsignor Gänswein was the first to confront Mr. Gabriele, who at the time denied being the source of the leaks.

Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre, president of the tribunal, said Saturday that he expected that the trial could finish with four more hearings.

In a televised interview before his arrest, Mr. Gabriele — who was sitting in shadows to cloak his identity — said many people within the Vatican were disturbed by the dishonesty they had witnessed. When the interview was broadcast again recently, Mr. Nuzzi revealed that the man was in fact Mr. Gabriele.

Making those concerns public was unimaginable a few years ago, Mr. Gabriele said, adding, “I think this will leave a mark.”

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