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Vatileaks trial: the butler talks

Sensation as Gabriele alleges mistreatment in Vatican custody

  • Alessandro Speciale
  • Vatican City
  • October 3, 2012
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In an unexpected twist, Paolo Gabriele and his lawyer tried to turn the tables on the Vatican by putting the spotlight on alleged mistreatment incurred by the Pope's former butler during the first few weeks of his detention.

He claimed he was held for at least 15 days in a cell too small to stretch his arms and the light was kept constantly on, even at night.

The move sent the Vatican into damage control mode during an eventful second day of the Vatileaks trial which also saw testimonies from Pope Benedict's personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, and one of the pontiff's consecrated chamberwomen.

During the hearing, Gabriele said he was “innocent” of stealing the Pope's private papers – he stressed on several occasions that he photocopied Benedict's confidential documents as he worked in the secretaries’ office, often under their own unsuspecting eyes – while admitting that he felt “guilty” for betraying the Pope's trust.

But Gabriele was at a loss when asked to explain the motives that led him to accumulate 82 boxes full of papers, dozens of private papal documents intermixed with thousands of newspaper clippings and printouts from the internet, on topics as diverse as Freemasonry and the secret services. “It is hard, if not impossible, to find a reason for something as irrational as what befell to me,” he said.

He recounted to Vatican judges how he had often been invited to sit down with Benedict and his staff at meals and that on those occasions he become convinced that the Pope could be easily manipulated.

“What scandalized me was how differently some things were perceived by the people and by those in power,” he said, adding that the Pope sometimes “asked questions about things he should have been informed about.”

Gabriele flatly denied having any accomplices or taking money or other benefits in exchange for leaking the documents. But he mentioned several others, including two Italian cardinals and other senior Vatican officials, as people he had been speaking to and whose conversation might have played a part in leading him to his actions.

In fact, Gabriele revealed that he had been at the center of network of personal confessions and complaints on the part of dozens of Vatican employees, who turned to him both for his position in close proximity to the Pope and for his willingness to listen. Some days, he recalled, the few minutes' walk from the papal apartment to his Vatican house took an hour and a half, as so many people stopped him along the way to have a word with him.

Gabriele himself showed signs of old habits as he instinctively rose at the arrival in the tiny courtroom of Monsignor Gaenswein, the Pope's personal secretary, whose response was to ignore him.

Gaenswein contradicted Gabriele when he said that, among the seized papers, he could recognize original papal documents that had gone missing and that dated back to 2006 – the year Gabriele started serving in the papal apartment.

But the second day of the Vatileaks trial also highlighted several potential loopholes in the Vatican’s case.

Besides the alleged mistreatment – that led to the prompt opening of an official Vatican investigation and swift responses from Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi and the gendarmeria  itself – it also emerged that the gendarmi conducted a search of Gabriele's house without gloves, possibly corrupting evidence, and that they had no clear version on where a mysterious nugget, presumably made of gold, was found in the butler's house.

All in all, this trial has not shown the gendarmi in the best of lights. In the first hearing, the judged ruled two interrogations as inadmissible, as they were conducted by gendarmi chief Domenico Giani without the presence of Gabriele's lawyers.

The case continues on Wednesday with the interrogation of four other gendarmi, which may add even more to their woes.

Alessandro Speciale writes for ucanews.com and other news sources on Vatican affairs
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