Pope's butler convicted of stealing documents


VATICAN CITY -– A Vatican court Saturday found former papal butler Paolo Gabriele guilty of aggravated theft in the pilfering and leaking of private internal documents in a scandal that brought extraordinary attention to the heart of the Roman Catholic Church.

The three-judge panel senteced Gabriele to three years in prison, reduced to one and a half, because they said he had understood that he had betrayed Pope Benedict XVI and had acted under  an “erroneous” sense of loyalty.

Gabriele, in a brief statement following lawyers’ closing arguments in the small courtroom, said he had acted only out of a “visceral love” for the church and the pope, insisting that “I don’t feel that I’m a thief.” 

The 46-year-old father of three, who had served at the pontiff's side for more than six years, dramatically swept aside the secrecy that enshrouds the Vatican because of the “evil and corruption” he believed needed rooting out. The leaked documents revealed an institution marred by corruption and cronyism, with infighting at the highest echelons of the Vatican. 

In closing arguments Saturday, just one week after the sensational trial began, defense attorney Cristina Arru asked the court to reduce Gabriele's charges from theft to misappropriation because, she said, he had merely copied material to which he had legitimate access and hadn’t actually stolen documents.

She said he had been moved to act by “high moral motives” and “a spirit of “profound faith.” He felt “forced by the evil he saw” inside the church, she said.

The judges returned their verdict two hours after closing arguments finished. 

Prosecutor Nicola Picardi said investigators had determined that Gabriele had no accomplices in the pilfering of the material, which eventually was passed on to an Italian journalist who divulged the contents in a television expose and in a best-selling book. Gabriele himself has said he acted alone.

It was the publication of “His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI” that led the pope’s personal secretary, Monsignor George Ganswein, and then investigators, to Gabriele.

Gabriele admitted photocopying thousands of documents and giving them to an Italian journalist, insisting he did so out of love for the pope and the church. The material found by Vatican police in his apartment included papal correspondence, encrypted diplomatic dispatches and other papers, which were published in the book.

The leak was one of the most serious security breaches in Vatican history, analysts said.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said there was a "concrete" possibility that Benedict would issue a papal pardon for Gabriele.


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Photo: Pope Benedict XVI arrives with his then-butler Paolo Gabriele, foreground, and his personal secretary, Georg Gaenswein, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in May 2006. Credit: Alessandra Tarantino / AP Photo

Vatican police describe finding many documents in papal butler home

Pope butler
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.

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Vatican paper calls papyrus referring to Jesus' wife 'a fake'


The Vatican newspaper has heaped doubt on a piece of papyrus that appears to show that some early Christians believed Jesus had a wife, deeming it “at any rate, a fake” in an editorial published this week.

L’Osservatore Romano editor Giovanni Maria Vian said the fragment, unveiled to the public last week by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King, was a “clumsy forgery” that had been hyped by the American media only to be immediately called into question by specialists.

Vian referred back to an accompanying article by Coptic scholar Alberto Camplani, which cautioned that the papyrus was found not through excavation, but at “an antiquarian market.” Religious scholars have cast doubt on its grammar and questioned whether anything can be deduced from such a clipped bit of text. The ink on the piece of parchment has yet to be tested, another gauge of its authenticity.

“Such an object demands that numerous precautions be taken to establish its reliability and exclude the possibility of forgery,” Camplani wrote, lamenting “tones which are quick to shock” in the media.

Camplani went on to argue that in light of the absence of other historical references to Jesus being married, the text should be understood “purely in a symbolic sense,” representing the spiritual union between Jesus and his disciples, according to an Associated Press translation of his article.

King has cautioned that the find is not proof that Jesus was married, but could provide evidence that some early Christians believed he was.

The discovery nonetheless set off a media firestorm, spurring comparisons to the plot of the bestselling novel “The Da Vinci Code,” which swirls around Jesus having married Mary Magdalene. The idea of Jesus being married would upset existing Church doctrine, possibly calling into question the practice of priestly celibacy.

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Pope's butler to stand trial in scandal over leaked Vatican documents

Pope butler
This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

VATICAN CITY -- The butler who served Pope Benedict XVI has been ordered to stand trial by a Vatican judge in the alleged pilfering of hundreds of confidential documents from the papal apartments and passing of them to an Italian journalist.

Paolo Gabriele, 45, will stand trial in a Vatican tribunal in the fall on charges of aggravated theft, along with Claudio Sciarpeletti, 49, a computer technician in the offices of the Holy See who is charged with aiding and abetting the butler.

Gabriele, the indictment alleges, stole the pope’s papers because he said he felt the need to root out “evil and corruption in the church.” Gabriele was arrested May 23, shortly after the publication of a bestselling book that reproduced many internal letters and papers that seemed to indicate not only a power struggle and backbiting between factions within the church, but also corruption and price-fixing in purchasing for the Vatican city-state.

He was held in a cell in the Vatican police barracks before being transferred to house arrest in July. As a member of what is known as the papal household, Gabriele, a layman, lives with his wife and children inside Vatican City.

Gabriele’s attorneys have said that he cooperated with the authorities and that he acted alone, despite a barrage of news reports in the Italian media saying that a number of insiders had become whistle-blowers eager to shed light on unsavory goings-on within Vatican walls.

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U.S. nuns meet with Vatican over its critique of their work

VATICAN CITY -– Top doctrinal officials at the Vatican met Tuesday with Roman Catholic nuns from the United States who are seeking to mitigate a harsh Vatican judgment of the organization they represent.

Statements from both sides described as open and cordial the meeting between two senior Vatican officials and the American nuns who have been accused of promoting "radical feminism."

The controversial assessment has prompted a large show of support for the sisters. But the Vatican reiterated Tuesday that it expects the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to change its ways to energetically promote church doctrine “as faithfully taught through the ages.”

LCWR President Sister Pat Farrell said in a statement that “it was an open meeting and we were able to directly express our concerns” to Cardinal William Levada, who heads the Vatican’s doctrinal office, and Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, the man chosen to oversee reforms ordered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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Pope's former butler questioned by Vatican court over documents

Paolo Gabriele, the former butler of Pope Benedict XVI, underwent official interrogation for the first time since he was arrested May 23 for allegedly stealing confidential documents from the papal apartment
This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

VATICAN CITY -- Paolo Gabriele, the former butler of Pope Benedict XVI, underwent official interrogation Tuesday for the first time since he was arrested May 23 for allegedly stealing confidential documents from the papal apartment.

Gabriele, 46, is charged with aggravated theft and is being held in one of four cells under control of the Holy See’s internal police force, a judge from the Vatican tribunal told reporters at a news conference. The judge, Paolo Papanti-Pelletier, said Gabriele could face from one to six years in prison if convicted.

Gabriele remains the only person charged in the case of confidential letters and documents that found their way outside Vatican walls and into television exposés, newspaper scoops and, more recently, a bestselling book.

Meanwhile, developments in the explosive saga continue in nearly daily installments in the Italian press, usually based on interviews with unnamed purported leakers, top-ranking clergy and others in the know about a bitter power struggle acknowledged by insiders and outside observers alike.

During a weekend trip to Milan for an International meeting on the family, Benedict was seen smiling and always close to his second-in-command, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The cardinal has been painted in the leaked reports as being an inept manager of the Vatican apparatus, of stacking the Curia administration with people close to him and obstructing efforts to clean up Vatican government and finances.

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Pope admits 'sadness in my heart' over latest papal scandal

VATICAN CITY -- For the first time since his butler was arrested on suspicion of stealing papal correspondence, Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday publicly discussed the scandal churning inside the Vatican, admitting “sadness in my heart” while accusing some in the media of painting a false picture of the Holy See.

The pope used his regular Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square to pledged his “trust and encouragement” to his closest aides, referring evidently to those who have been depicted in leaked documents as being embroiled in a power struggle in the scandal now dubbed “VatiLeaks.”

In front of several thousand people gathered in the sunny square, the pope said, "Rumors have multiplied, and been exaggerated by some media in a gratuitous manner” that has given “an unrealistic image of the Holy See.”

He said he wanted to “renew by trust and encouragement in my closest advisers and to all those who in silence and with a spirit of sacrifice help me daily in carrying out by ministry.”

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Pope Benedict XVI calls for peace in his Easter message

Pope Benedict XVI on Easter Sunday

REPORTING FROM ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday used his traditional Easter message to call for an end to bloodshed in Syria and for greater efforts to resolve other conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.

Before an estimated 100,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pope called upon Israelis and Palestinians to "courageously take up anew the peace process."

Benedict expressed a desire that the hope symbolized by the resurrection of Jesus on Easter would allow for progress in the Middle East and "enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights."

He mentioned Syria in particular, calling for an end to the violence with "an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation" and humanitarian assistance to refugees.
Benedict is planning to travel to the region this year; the Vatican announced Sunday that he would visit Lebanon on Sept. 14-16.
The pontiff said in his Easter address that he wanted to send a message of hope to Christian communities in both the Middle East and Africa that are suffering from "discrimination and persecution." He singled out Nigeria as a country where Christians had suffered "savage terrorist attacks" recently.
Even as he spoke, news agencies reported an attack by Muslim extremists on Christians attending Easter services in northern Nigeria, in which about 20 people were believed killed.
Following tradition, the pope gave his Easter greeting in 65 languages. The address was given in Italian.


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Photo: Pope Benedict XVI attends Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Sunday. Credit: Franco Origlia / Getty Images

Cubans praise Pope Benedict's call for religious liberty

Thousands of Cubans attend Mass conducted by Pope Benedict XVI

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

REPORTING FROM HAVANA -- Tens of thousands of people crowded Revolution Plaza where Pope Benedict XVI came to speak Wednesday. Some worshipers had traveled by bus all night from around the island nation, arriving at dawn for the 9 a.m. Mass.

Many praised the pope’s call an expanded role for the Roman Catholic Church, though they noted that Cuba had taken baby steps toward more religious freedom in recent years as relations with the church have warmed.

“The church should be given more freedom -- freedom not to paint things in way they’re not, but to paint things as they are,” said a 17-year-old student named Jose Miguel, who declined to give his last name. “The church could help the state a lot.”

The teen said Cubans needed the right to think and express themselves, including considering alternatives to the island’s communist rulers. “There’s desire, but a lot of fear,” he said.

Ana Isabel Hernandez, 46, a church worker who traveled 10 hours by bus from the city of Villa Clara, in central Cuba, applauded Benedict’s call for more religious liberty. When asked whether the pope’s message could have carried a harder edge, Hernandez smiled slyly.

“It was good,” she said. “You can’t be that direct.”

Eloilda Garcia, a Catholic lay missionary who rode seven hours in a bus caravan, said she hoped the government would accede to Benedict’s request to make Good Friday a nationally recognized holiday. Garcia, in a white cap with the pope’s image and a T shirt saying “Welcome,” said Cuba has opened some since the last time a pope visited, in 1998.

“We’re opening little by little. People are talking more openly about Christ, when we didn’t before. Little by little you feel a change,” Garcia said. “It’s a hope.”

The plaza was crowned by a giant altar built for the occasion. It was surrounded by fluttering Cuban flags and government office buildings bearing larger-than-life portraits of revolutionary heroes such as Che Guevara.

The only outwardly religious adornment was a billboard-sized banner with an image of Our Lady of Charity, patron saint of Cuba, hanging on the side of the National Library.

The plaza was already baking under a blazing sun by the time services began at 9 a.m. Some people took shelter under umbrellas. A number who succumbed to the heat were carried off on Red Cross stretchers.

Although many of those in the crowd were Catholics, the Mass also drew many non-believers eager to catch a glimpse of the pope, or just to experience a big event.

“Look around. Most people here aren’t believers,” said Maria Gomez, a 48-year-old school teacher and non-believer. “People came for, I don’t know, curiosity. To join the excitement.”

[For the Record, 9:13 a.m., March 29: A previous version of this post incorrectly referred to a likeness of Fidel Castro hanging at Revolution Plaza. Castro's image is not displayed at the plaza.]


Pope urges Cuba to build an open society

Pope Benedict XVI preaches in Cuba's Revolution Plaza

Pope Benedict XVI meets with Cuban leader Raul Castro

-- Ken Ellingwood

Photo: Thousands turned out for a Mass conducted by Pope Benedict XVI in Revolution Plaza in Havana on Wednesday morning.  Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Pope arrives in Havana to meet at least one Castro

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the Havana, Cuba, ahead of a highly anticipated private meeting with President Raul Castro and, possibly, his older brother Fidel
REPORTING FROM HAVANA -- Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the Cuban capital today ahead of a highly anticipated private meeting with President Raul Castro and, possibly, his older brother Fidel.

The pope was greeted by children dressed in white, who presented him with flowers at the Jose Marti International Airport.

Earlier, Benedict prayed at Cuba's holiest shrine, the Our Lady of Charity Basilica, which honors the patron saint of the island.

He said he was praying "for the needs of those who suffer, of those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty.

"May nothing or no one take from you your inner joy, which is so characteristic of the Cuban soul," he said.

Benedict has been using his trip, only the second time a pontiff has visited the communist-ruled island, to deliver a subtle but pointed message on behalf of change and human rights. On Monday, during an open-air Mass attended by thousands, he told Cubans to build "an open society, a better society." And he has said Cuba's Marxist model is outdated.

Raul Castro, in welcoming the pope Monday to Santiago, defended (link in Spanish) the regime's careful economic transition. "The nation is invariably continuing to change everything that needs to be changed, in keeping with the highest aspirations of the Cuban people," he said.

It remains to be seen how hard the pope will press Castro on human rights and a wider role for the church when they meet later today. Also, it was widely assumed Benedict would also meet with Fidel Castro, Cuba's former president and leader of its socialist revolution in the 1950s. Both Castros were raised as Catholics and went to Catholic schools as children.

The pope's visit comes at a time of evolving and improving relations between the state and the Roman Catholic Church. Once marginalized and repressed, the church today has a growing voice in human rights and social-policy issues.

Cuban officials say they welcome suggestions from well-meaning outsiders on improving the country's socialist economy, but made it clear on the eve of the pope's arrival that they are not contemplating wider political change.

"In Cuba, there's not going to be political reform. In Cuba, we are talking about updating the Cuban economic model to make our socialism sustainable and that has to do with the well-being of our people," Marino Murillo, a Cuban economic official, told reporters in Havana today, sounding a defiant note.

Murillo is overseeing a series of reforms that are aimed at improving productivity by making it easier for residents to open businesses, hire employees and, for the first time, to buy and sell private homes.

Murillo said it was essential for Cuba to step up productivity to satisfy the economic demands of ordinary Cubans and state-run enterprises and avoid having to import from abroad.

Although Cuban officials put new pavement and paint on a couple of streets the pope is expected to travel, there were few other outward signs today of a papal visit in the making. Posters bearing the pontiff's image were hung on scattered utility poles around the downtown area, but for the most part, life in Havana seemed little different from any other day.

Officials have constructed a massive altar and hung yellow-and-white banners along the sprawling Plaza de la Revolucion, a site over the years of countless public celebrations of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. Benedict is scheduled on Wednesday morning to deliver a Mass at the plaza -- an event viewed as the high point of his Cuba trip.

Though the mood appeared subdued, some residents said they looked forward to hearing what the pope would say to Cuba and the world. Some said they hoped he would make a forceful call to end the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba -- a plea also made by Pope John Paul II when he visited Cuba in 1998, the last time a pope visited Cuba.

"We are hoping for a miracle," said Rafael Rodriguez, who was selling fluorescent light bulbs from a stool in the picturesque but crumbling Old Havana section of Havana. "The pope can be a mediator for peace and tranquility."  


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-- Ken Ellingwood

Photo: Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed by children after his arrival at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana on Tuesday. Credit: Marcelino Vazquez / AFP/Getty Images 


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