Pope's butler goes on trial in 'Vatileaks' scandal
Posted Sunday, September 30 2012 at 00:32
Pope Benedict XVI's former butler Paolo Gabriele went on trial Saturday accused of leaking confidential Vatican memos that revealed cloak-and-dagger politics among the pontiff's closest aides.
Gabriele sat quietly for the start of a closely-watched case which could see him receive up to four years in prison for aggravated theft if convicted. The 46-year-old father of three looked tired and wan in a grey suit and grey tie.
The pope's personal secretary Georg Gaenswein, who was Gabriele's superior, is expected to be called to testify against his former charge, the court heard.
Gaenswein, 56, one of Benedict's closest confidants, confronted the butler about the leaks early in May after being tipped off by the Vatican police.
The court, after a first session of just over two hours, which mainly addressed preliminary legal questions, fixed the next hearing for Tuesday.
A once loyal servant who said he grew disgusted by the "evil and corruption" he witnessed, Gabriele has told investigators he was acting as an "agent" of the Holy Spirit to help put a scandal-weary Catholic Church back on track.
He is accused of passing reporter Gianluigi Nuzzi copies of secret papers earlier this year under the codename "Maria". Gabriele is expected to have a chance to address the court and defend his actions at Tuesday's hearing.
The trial is playing out in a 19th-century wood-panelled courtroom tucked away behind the apse of St Peter's basilica in a corner of the city state that is strictly off-limits to the millions who visit the Vatican every year.
A crucifix and a portrait of Benedict hung in the courtroom, which also had four chandeliers and a giant Vatican coat of arms on the ceiling.
The defence requested that parts of the case be declared inadmissible because of the need to defend papal secrecy and protested that the prosecution had not made clear what exactly Gabriele was accused of stealing.
They also asked that evidence from a separate investigation carried out by a committee of cardinals appointed by the pope be included in the trial.
The committee interviewed dozens of people in the Vatican and compiled a report that was submitted to the pope in July but has not been made public.
Presiding judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre threw the objections and the request out, though he said he would decide later whether evidence from Gabriele's second home at Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence, could be admitted.
Evidence confiscated from the butler's apartments -- including copies of confidential documents, electronic copying equipment and gifts intended for the pope including a gold nugget -- filled 82 boxes, the court was told.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said afterwards the hearing was "serene and orderly" and the Vatican was treating the case "with complete transparency".
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 confessed and written a letter begging the pope for forgiveness, but that is not legally considered definitive proof for a conviction because he could have lied to protect fellow whistleblowers.
Many commentators have said they expect the pope to pardon Gabriele.