Pontiff easily manipulated and unaware, says ex-butler


POPE BENEDICT XVI is not as well informed as he should be and is also manipulated easily by those around him, according to his former butler Paolo Gabriele.

Mr Gabriele was giving evidence yesterday at the second hearing of a Vatican City trial in which he stands accused of stealing an enormous quantity of confidential documents from the pontifical apartment in St Peter’s.

The pope’s former butler, while indicating he had carried out the theft of documents on his own, said his action was the expression of an overall malaise in certain Holy See quarters.

He suggested that no lay person was closer to the pope, in that he not only looked after the pontiff’s wardrobe but also served him daily at table as well as accompanying him on all trips.

The former butler claimed that on those occasions when he had exchanged words with the pope, he concluded that the pontiff was not fully informed: “The pope asked questions about matters that he should have known about.”

Mr Gabriele admitted he was in a “privileged” position working inside the Holy See and claimed that he could experience many delicate church questions from “both” sides, that of the “people ” and that of the Holy See.

Significantly, when the court discussion turned to the question of “collaborators” and “motivation” behind Mr Gabriele’s theft, presiding judge Giuseppe Della Torre was quick to intervene, noting that such issues were not strictly pertinent to the courtroom debate, in that the trial is concerned exclusively with the crime of theft.

Mr Gabriele (46) pleaded that he was “innocent” of the crime of aggravated theft, adding: “I am, however, guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son.”

He continues to claim that he acted as a whistleblower, keen to draw the pope’s attention to the climate of internecine rivalry, occasional corruption and naked politicising that reigns in the Holy See.

Mr Gabriele said his concerns were shared by others in the Holy See, but insisted he had acted alone when it came to stealing the documents.

The other key witness on the second day was the pope’s private secretary, Msgr Georg Gaenswein, who claimed that in the years he had worked alongside the accused, he had never any doubts about the man. Msgr Gaenswein admitted that his initial suspicions about Mr Gabriele were prompted by the publication of the book, His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI which contained photocopies of two documents which had remained in the papal apartment, rather than doing the rounds of Vatican departments.

At that point, the pontiff’s secretary became convinced that the “leak” contained in the the book had come from the papal household, probably Mr Gabriele.

In an unexpected twist, Mr Gabriele’s lawyer complained about the conditions under which he had been detained in Vatican City, at least for the first 20 days. She said he had been held in a cell so small that he could not stretch his arms and in which the lights burned 24 hours a day.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said that the Vatican City’s chief prosecutor had opened an investigation into the charges.

The trial, which resumes today, is expected to finish on Friday or Saturday. Should the court find Mr Gabriele guilty, he could face a four-year jail sentence. Many observers, however, believe the pope would intervene at that point and issue a papal pardon.