VATICAN CITY -- Four members of the Vatican police force said Wednesday they found more than 1,000 Vatican-related documents in the apartment of Paolo Gabriele, the former papal butler accused of leaking confidential correspondence in a massive security breach that has deeply embarrassed the Holy See.
The police officers, or gendarmes, told a Vatican courtroom that a large wardrobe in Gabriele's apartment was stuffed with about 100,000 papers in all. Some were original papal documents marked by Pope Benedict XVI as "to be destroyed." The stash also included material downloaded from the Internet regarding the Freemasonry, the Italian secret services, the Vatican bank and politics.
Carting away all the documents required 82 large boxes, the gendarmes testified. They spoke on the third day of the trial of Gabriele, who is charged with aggravated theft for allegedly stealing, photocopying and passing the pontiff's private papers and other Vatican documents on to an Italian journalist.
The leaks shed an unprecedented and unflattering light on the secretive world of the Vatican, exposing alleged corruption, cronyism and power struggles behind the thick walls of the smallest sovereign state in the world.
On Tuesday, Gabriele admitted to having betrayed the trust of Benedict, who he said loved him like a son. Gabriele has acknowledged taking Vatican documents, but insisted on the witness stand that he was not guilty of the charges of aggravated theft and that he had acted out of a desire to protect the pope and the Roman Catholic Church from wrongdoers inside the Vatican.
The gendarmes were sent to search Gabriele’s home inside Vatican City on May 23, after an internal hunt for the source of the leaked documents led to the pope’s manservant, who had virtually unlimited access to the papal apartments.
Besides the huge trove of documents, police also found a gold nugget and a check for 100,000 euros (about $129,000) made out to the pope from a Spanish Catholic university. Gabriele said Tuesday that he knew nothing about those items.
He has also denied having accomplices. But in his testimony Tuesday, the former butler said he had been influenced by others and identified seven people, including two cardinals and the former governess of the papal household. None of those named has been called to testify.
On Wednesday, the gendarmes rejected accusations by Gabriele's defense team that he had been locked in a cell where he could barely stretch out his arms, with a light kept on 24 hours a day. The gendarmes said that Gabriele had been treated well and that he had even thanked the police.
Judge Giuseppe Della Torre, who leads the panel of three judges, adjourned the proceedings until Saturday, when the court will hear closing arguments and Gabriele will have a last chance to speak for himself. The judges are expected to render a verdict and sentence later that day.
-- Sarah Delaney
Photo: Paolo Gabriele, right, the former butler to Pope Benedict XVI, inside a Vatican courtroom Saturday. Gabriele is accused of stealing and leaking confidential Vatican documents. Credit: Associated Press / L'Osservatore Romano