Vatican City, Oct 2, 2012 / 11:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite his confession to Vatican police, papal butler Paolo Gabriele has said he is innocent of stealing Pope Benedict XVI’s private correspondence but he feels “guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father.”
“I declare myself innocent concerning the charge of aggravated theft,” he said at the Oct. 2 hearing at the Vatican City courthouse behind St. Peter’s Basilica.
Gabriele, a 46-year-old Italian father of three, worked in the Papal Household under both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He was one of very few individuals who had daily access to the Pope and said he loved him “as a son would.”
In May, Vatican prosecutors charged him with the aggravated theft of documents, including private papal correspondence. His arrest followed several months of “Vatileaks” in which the Italian media reported on numerous sensitive internal Vatican papers.
Eighty-two crates of documents and other material were removed from Gabriele’s apartment and the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo during the police investigation.
Gabriele said at the trial that he photocopied papal documents but he said he did so during the workday on a workplace photocopier in plain view of others. He said he used the copier in the office he shared with Pope Benedict’s two private secretaries.
Msgr. Georg Ganswein, Pope Benedict’s personal secretary, testified that he began to suspect Gabriele of leaking the documents when he realized that three documents that appeared in journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book on the Vatican could only have come from his office.
The monsignor said he did not notice any missing documents. When he examined the documents from Gabriele’s apartment, he found photocopies and original documents dating to 2006.
Cristina Cernetti, a consecrated laywoman who works in the papal apartment, said Tuesday she knew Gabriele had leaked the documents because she could exclude any other member of the papal household.
Prosecutors said Gabriele in June confessed to leaking the documents to Nuzzi because he wanted to expose the “evil and corruption” in the Church. He knew taking the documents was wrong but he felt inspired by God to “bring the Church back on the right track.” The butler told Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre Oct. 2 that he stood by his confession.
The leaks seem to be targeted to discredit Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who has been the object of criticisms for alleged shortcomings in leading the administration of the Holy See.
Gabriele is also accused of stealing several gifts to the Pope police say they recovered in his apartment: a gold nugget, a 100,000-euro check, and a rare 16th-century copy of “The Aeneid.”
Gabriele’s attorney Cristiana Arru told the court her client faced poor conditions in the first 15 to 20 days after his May 23 arrest. The cell was so narrow he could not stretch his arms and the lights were kept on 24 hours a day. He said his eyesight was damaged and prison officials did not provide him with a pillow.
Judge Dalla Torre, president of the three-judge panel overseeing the case, ordered Vatican prosecutor Nicola Picardi to investigate the charge.
Vatican police said the prisoner had received appropriate food, free time, socializing, spiritual assistance and health care. They said they kept on the lights for security reasons and to prevent the accused man from harming himself. They added that they provided him with a mask to block out the light.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said Gabriele’s first cell was in line with international standards and he was later moved to a bigger cell.
The Vatican court typically deals with around 30 cases a year but these normally concern minor crimes like stolen bags or other crimes that target tourists.
Gabriele faces up to four years in an Italian prison if he is convicted. His trial will continue through at least two more sessions.