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Pope’s former butler on trial for theft of papal files

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-09-29

Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler went on trial Saturday for revealing top-secret Vatican documents. Paolo Gabriele, angry at the “evil and corruption” he says he witnessed, faces up to four years in prison for aggravated theft.

The Vatican opened its doors Saturday on one of the most embarrassing scandals of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, with the trial beginning for the pope’s former butler who is charged with allegedly stealing and leaking papal correspondence to a journalist.

Paolo Gabriele, who has already confessed to the crime, has stated that he was trying shed light on what he called the “evil and corruption” in the church. His testimony revealed a cloak-and-dagger politics operating in the world’s smallest state.

Gabriele, a 46-year-old father of three, faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

FRANCE24’s correspondent in Rome, Seema Gupta, voiced the Vatican’s shock at this “serious breach of security”.

Gabriele, who was replaced as papal butler after his arrest in late May, is accused of taking the pope’s correspondences, photocopying the documents and handing them to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book “His Holiness: The secret papers of Pope Benedict XVI,” was published in a blaze of publicity 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 US ambassador.

‘Fear’ kept people quiet

"There is a kind of omerta against the truth, not so much because of a power struggle but because of fear, because of caution," Gabriele said in the only recorded interview with the journalist, using the term for the code of silence of the Sicilian mafia.

Gabriele told Nuzzi there were "around 20" like-minded people in the Vatican. "It annoys people when you stick your nose in their dirty laundry," he said, adding that the leaking of documents was "a gesture of rage" against inaction. "There is a lot of hypocrisy, this is the kingdom of hypocrisy," he said.

Many question, however, whether this conspiracy is just the tip of the iceberg and whether there could be more senior disgruntled Vatican employees working with Gabriele.

Gabriele said he was aware of the consequences of his actions but said the potential to change something in the Vatican was worth the risk.

Gabriele told investigators he was acting as an "agent" of the Holy Spirit to help the pope put a weary Catholic Church back on track.

The Vatican has said the 85-year-old German pope is deeply hurt by the betrayal of confidence by someone he "knew, loved and respected".

Gabriele has written a letter begging the pope for forgiveness, something Vatican watchers say is a given 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 spent entire life in the church

Gabriele has spent his entire adult life as a Vatican servant, starting out as a cleaner at the Secretariat of State -- the main administrative body of the Catholic Church -- and becoming butler to the pope in 2006.

He served the pope his meals and clothed him and is a constant presence in official photographs, adjusting the pope's cloak, holding his umbrella or riding him on the "popemobile" through crowds on foreign trips.

Vatican gendarmes arrested Gabriele and raided his home behind the Vatican walls, finding copies of confidential documents and gifts intended for the pope including a gold nugget and a 100,000-euro ($129,000) cheque.

Gabriele, one of only 594 citizens of the Vatican, was well known and generally liked in the tight-knit community that inhabitants the historic city.

Gabriele is being tried together with Claudio Sciarpelletti, a Vatican computer technician at the Vatican who is accused of abetting his crime.

No oaths are taken at the start of the trial, as the Vatican legal system, like the Italian one on which it is based, assumes a suspect may lie for self-protection. A judge reads aloud the charges against Gabriele, the defence can raise objections and both sides can enter their witness lists.

The length of the trial will depend in large part on the number of objections to the indictment and witness lists.

The pope addressed the scandal for the first time a week after Gabriele was arrested, saying the news had “brought sadness in my heart.” 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.”

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-09-29

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