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

August 13, 2012 |  7:49 am

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.

A steady and unprecedented stream of documents published in Italian newspapers and on television specials preceded the May publication of “His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI,” a book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.

After Gabriele's arrest, Benedict said he was “saddened and shocked” by the actions of a
trusted servant who had constantly been by his side and called for an internal investigation headed by three cardinals, in addition to the judicial inquiry.

The indictment says Gabriele told investigators that he had been collecting documents from the desk of the pope’s personal secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, for some time before contacting Nuzzi.

“I felt the need to do something that would somehow bring a halt to the situation inside the Vatican. ... I realized that the Holy Father wasn’t informed about some things, or had been badly informed,"  the indictment quoted Gabriele as saying. "With the help of others like Nuzzi I thought I could see things more clearly."

Judge Piero Bonnet wrote in the indictment that the investigation had "not yet brought fully to light the many, intricate events that comprise the very complex subject of this indictment."

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi suggested to journalists at a news conference Monday that the probe by magistrates into the leak of the papal documents is likely to continue, although investigators had not formally announced it.

Lombardi said that once Gabriele's trial is over, the pope would decide whether to continue the magistrates' investigation and whether to disclose in some manner the results of the cardinals’ internal inquiry.

[For the Record, Aug. 13, 11:33 a.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the author of "His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI" as Gianluca Nuzzi. His first name is Gianluigi.]


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Photo: Paolo Gabriele, front left, the butler to Pope Benedict XVI, rides with the pontiff in June 2010. Credit: Ettore Ferrari / European Photo Agency