Paolo Gabriele, the former butler of Pope Benedict XVI, confirmed on Tuesday that he leaked hundreds of pages of the pontiff’s private papers and gave them to an Italian journalist—an act of betrayal that he said has left him with pangs of guilt. Yet as he took the stand in front of a three-judge Vatican panel during the second day of his trial, Gabriele said he was innocent of the charges because he photocopied the papers during the day, in front of Benedict’s private secretaries, with whom he shared an office.
“I don’t feel guilty of aggravated theft,” Gabriele told the judges. “But I do feel guilty of betraying trust of the Holy Father, who loved me like a son.”
Many of the papers ended up in His Holiness, a book by the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, which paints a portrait of the Holy See as a den of financial corruption. The documents also highlight infighting among the highest-ranking cardinals, presumably elbowing their way towards the next papal conclave.
Despite his claims of innocence, throughout the morning Gabriele went into considerable detail about how he photocopied the pope’s papers and the torment he went through as he knowingly gave them to Nuzzi. At first he consulted a spiritual adviser, whom he later abandoned for reasons he did not mention. Then he confided in a mysterious figure whom he referred to only as “Father Giovanni.” He also gave Father Giovanni a copy of all the documents he had given to the journalist. The court did not hear evidence as to whether or not Giovanni provided evidence against Gabriele.
When Vatican investigators first began investigating Gabriele, the former butler said he leaked the documents to help fight “evil and corruption” in the church. Gabriele stood by his original statement and added that he wasn’t the only one who has disseminated the pope’s private documents. Yet when Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre asked the butler if he had any accomplices, Gabrielle said no. He added, however that “it wasn’t me alone who furnished documents to the press in these last few years.”
As the Vatileaks scandal has unfolded, many have suspected that Gabriele did not act alone. Thus far, the trial has predominantly revolved around the mechanics of the how the documents were leaked, rather than the possibility of co-conspirators. On Saturday, however, Gabriele’s lawyer asked that the results of a papal commission of cardinals who conducted their own investigation into the leaked document scandal in tandem with Vatican City gendarmerie be entered into evidence. The judge denied the request, ruling that only the pope himself could ask that the results be considered. On Tuesday, the judge appeared to reign in any testimony that swayed towards the question of who else from inside the Holy See might be involved. Unlike the normal Italian court system, under the rules of the Vatican tribunal, both the prosecutor and defense lawyers must ask the judge to ask the witness their questions.
On Tuesday, Gabriele also alleged mistreatment by Vatican authorities during first 20 days of his detention. Prompted by his attorney, the former butler said he was placed in a holding cell so small that he couldn’t stretch out his arms. The light was kept on for 24 hours a day, he alleged, and he was not even given a pillow on which to sleep—at least for the first night. Dalla Torre has asked the Vatican panel to open a criminal investigation into Gabriele’s treatment.
During the investigation, Vatican police confiscated 82 boxes of documents and personal belongings from Gabriele’s private apartments in Vatican City and at the pope’s summer residence in Castelgandolfo. In addition to reams of documents, they also found an ancient original script by Virgil, a check for €100,000 made out to Pope Benedict XVI and a gold nugget. Gabriele admitted to having the script, but said he had permission to bring it home to show his son. He denied ever seeing the check or the gold nugget in his home before the investigators arrived, implying they may have been planted.
The trial resumes on Wednesday with the remaining witnesses to take the stand, then after closing arguments from the promoter of justice and Gabriele’s lawyer, the three judges will retire to chambers to decide the fate of the former butler—likely by the weekend. If convicted, Gabriele faces four years in prison, though has asked for a papal pardon, which he will almost certainly be granted at some point after the trial has ended.