Pope's ex-butler goes on trial

Sat, Sep 29, 2012, 01:00

Pope Benedict's former butler Paolo Gabriele has gone on trial on today on charges of aggravated theft in one of the most embarrassing episodes in recent Vatican history.

The trial in the Vatican, where Mr Gabriele is accused of stealing sensitive papal documents and leaking them to the media, started at 9.30am local time.

A group of eight journalists have been allowed into the small courtroom inside the Vatican and will brief other reporters after the end of the first session, which is expected to last up to three hours.

The court ruled today that the results of a sensitive separate investigation carried out by cardinals for the Pope will not be admitted as trial evidence.

The court rejected a defence request to include the cardinals' investigation. It ruled that the trial will be based only on an investigation by a Vatican prosecutor and Vatican police.

Mr Gabriele, wearing a light grey suit and looking pale but smiling often, did not speak at the first session. He is expected to testify when the trial resumes on October 2nd.

Mr Gabriele (46), who served the pope his meals and helped him dress, is being tried along with a Vatican computer expert in the city state's little-used tribunal, a small, wood-panelled room with a papal emblem on its ceiling.

Mr Gabriele was arrested in May after police found confidential documents in his apartment inside the Vatican, throwing a global media spotlight on an institution battling to defend its reputation from allegations of graft.

A three-judge panel will decide the fate of Gabriele, whom the pope used to call "Paoletto" (little Paul), now described in Vatican documents as "the defendant".

The self-styled whistle-blower, who says he was trying to expose graft at the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, is charged with aggravated theft for stealing and leaking the pontiff's personal papers, and could be jailed for four years.

According to an indictment last August, Mr Gabriele told investigators he had acted because he saw "evil and corruption everywhere in the Church" and wanted to help root it out "because the pope was not sufficiently informed".

The documents pointed to a power struggle at the Church's highest levels.

Mr Gabriele, who said he saw himself as an "agent of the Holy Spirit", is widely expected to be found guilty because he has confessed. Since the papal state has no prison, Gabriele would serve time in an Italian jail, though the pope is widely expected to pardon him.

The trial will be based on a 19th-century Italian penal code. Claudio Sciarpelletti, the computer expert charged with aiding and abetting Mr Gabriele, could be jailed for up to a year. It is not clear how long the trial might last.

Mr Gabriele, a father of three who lived a simple but comfortable life in the city-state, told investigators after his arrest in May that he believed a shock "could be a healthy thing to bring the Church back on the right track".

His arrest capped nearly five months of intrigue and suspense after a string of documents and private letters found their way into the Italian media.

The most notorious of the letters were written to the pope by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, currently the Vatican's ambassador to Washington, who was deputy governor of the Vatican City at the time.

In one, Archbishop Vigano complains that when he took office in 2009, he discovered corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to outside companies at inflated prices.

The archbishop later wrote to the Pope about a smear campaign against him by other Vatican officials who were upset that he had taken drastic steps to clean up the purchasing procedures.

Reuters

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