Pope Benedict’s ex-butler Paolo Gabriele has been being found guilty of stealing confidential papers from him and sentenced to 18 months in jail – but is expected to shortly be granted a pardon.
Gabriele, 46, was given the prison term on Saturday for his role in one of the worst scandals to hit the Vatican in recent years, involving allegations of infighting, intrigue and nepotism, and corruption.
Prosecutors in the so-called ‘Vatileaks’ case had asked the Vatican court for a three-year sentence for the ex-butler – who had collected a huge number of stolen documents at his apartment within the Vatican.
But the presiding judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre reduced the sentence on the grounds of Gabriele’s service to the Church and his apology to the Pope for betraying him.
The Vatican’s spokesman Federico Lombardi said after the verdict that the Pope was ‘very likely’ to pardon Gabriele, who claimed he had been motivated by a desire to root out ‘corruption and evil’ at the heart of the Church.
Lombardi, who described the verdict as ‘mild and fair’, said Gabriele would remain under house arrest ‘while the Pope evaluates his position’, adding that he did not know when a pardon might be granted.
The sentence was read out two hours after Gabriele, a father of three, gave a final address to the special court at the end of his week-long trial, insisting that he was not a thief.
He said: ‘The thing that I feel strongly in me is the conviction that I acted only out of visceral love for the Church of Christ and for its visible head. I do not feel like I’m a thief.’
Gabriele handed much of the Pope’s stolen correspondence to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who wrote a book revealing the plotting and petty infighting at the top of the Church, as well as allegations of corruption, nepotism and homosexual affairs.
The book, His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI’s Secret Papers, sent shockwaves through the Vatican and prompted the Pope to set up an inquiry into the leaks.
Many of the documents contain criticism of the Vatican’s powerful Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who is seen as a divisive figure at the top of the Church. Gabriele’s defence lawyer told the court that the former butler had merely photocopied documents and had leaked them out of a desire to ‘do good’.
But Vatican police and the Pope’s private secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein, said that original documents were among the 82 boxes of evidence that they seized from the Vatican apartment in May.
Some of them were so sensitive that they had been marked by Pope Benedict, in German, ‘to be destroyed’.
At the end of the trial yesterday, as Gabriele looked on impassively, the judge said: ‘In the name of his holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who reigns in glory, and invoking the Holy Trinity … this court sentences the defendant to three years in prison.’
But Judge Dalla Torre then reduced the term, saying he had taken into consideration ‘the absence of a criminal record, his service record preceding these charges and the subjective though erroneous motivation provided by the defendant as to his motivation’.
Gabriele’s ‘declaration of his acknowledgement of having betrayed the trust of the holy father’ had weighed in his favour and led to a shorter sentence.
He claimed he was helping the 85-year-old pontiff as he feared Benedict XVI was being ‘manipulated’. The Vatican’s criminal law dates back to the 19th Century and the Pope holds wide powers – including the right to dismiss a case at any point during a trial.
Stefano De Santis was one of four Vatican police officers who said they found the papers in the 46-year-old’s home.
He told the Vatican courtroom: ‘You can understand our unease when we saw these documents. This was a total violation of the privacy of the papal family.’
It threw an unflattering spotlight on the inner workings of a city-state eager to shake off a series of scandals involving sexual abuse of minors by clerics around the world and mismanagement at its bank.
Gabriele, a trusted servant who served the pope meals, helped him dress and rode in the popemobile, has admitted passing papers to the journalist at secret meetings, but told the court at a previous hearing he did not see this as a crime.
The former butler sat impassively and occasionally smiled during Wednesday’s 75-minute session as Vatican policemen told the court how they searched his apartment in the Vatican on May 23, the night of his arrest, and what they found.
The mass of incriminating documents, most of which were hidden in huge piles of papers stashed in a large wardrobe, included personal letters between the pope, cardinals and politicians on a variety of subjects.
Some papers, De Santis said, bore the pope’s handwriting and had been marked ‘to be destroyed’ by the pontiff in German. He did not say what those papers concerned.
Some of the documents were copies of encrypted documents.
De Santis told the court: ‘One photocopy was enough to threaten the operations of the Holy See.’
The agents said they found a mass of documents and books filled with newspaper clippings on the occult, secret services, Masonic lodges, yoga, political scandals in Italy, scandals involving the Vatican bank and other subjects.
Two of the four policemen who testified on Wednesday also rejected Gabriele’s accusations, made on Tuesday, that he was mistreated for several weeks after his arrest.
Gabriele told the court’s previous hearing that for up to 20 days he was held in a room so small he could not stretch out his arms and that the light was left on 24 hours a day, causing him eye damage.
A Vatican judge ordered an investigation into the allegations.
De Santis said the search turned up ‘many more’ papers than appeared in a book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who wrote a muckraking expose early in 2012.
The letters to the pope included one in which a senior Vatican functionary expressed concern about corruption in the Holy See’s business dealings with Italian companies.
The letter-writer, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, was posted to Washington after raising the issue, despite begging to be allowed to stay at the papal state.
Source: The Mail