VATICAN CITY — Members of the Vatican police force have testified that they found thousands of pages of documents — about Freemasonry, secret service security forces and internal Vatican letters — inside the Vatican City apartment of Pope Benedict XVI's former butler, who is on trial for aggravated theft.
Their testimony continues Wednesday in a Vatican courtroom in the trial of Paolo Gabriele, the 46-year-old father of three who faces four years in prison if convicted.
On Tuesday, Gabriele declared himself innocent of the charge, but acknowledged he photocopied the pope's private correspondence, in broad daylight and in the presence of others, using the photocopier in the office he shared with the pope's two private secretaries.
"I declare myself innocent concerning the charge of aggravated theft. I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would," he said.
Prosecutors say Gabriele stole the pope's letters and documents alleging power struggles and corruption inside the Vatican and leaked them to a journalist in an unprecedented papal security breach and one of the most damaging scandals of Benedict's seven-year papacy.
During Tuesday's hearing, Gabriele's attorney Cristiana Arru complained that her client spent his first 20 days in Vatican detention in a room so small he couldn't stretch his arms out and with lights kept on 24 hours a day. Vatican police swiftly defended their treatment of Gabriele, but the Vatican prosecutor opened an investigation regardless.
Prosecutors have said Gabriele, 46, has confessed to leaking copies of the documents to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, because he wanted to expose the "evil and corruption" in the church. They quoted him as saying in a June 5 interrogation that even though he knew taking the documents was wrong, he felt inspired by the Holy Spirit "to bring the church back on the right track."
Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre asked Gabriele on Tuesday if he stood by his confession. Gabriele responded: "Yes."
Gabriele insisted he had no accomplices, though he acknowledged that many people inside the Vatican, including cardinals, trusted him and would come to him with their problems and concerns. He said he felt inspired by his faith to always give them a listen.
The pope's main secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, testified Tuesday that he began having suspicions about Gabriele after he realized three documents that appeared in Nuzzi's book could only have come from their shared office.
"This was the moment when I started to have my doubts," Gaenswein said.
Gaenswein said he never noticed documents missing from his desk, but immediately recognized original letters when he went to the Vatican police station after the gendarmes searched Gabriele's home on May 23. They carted off 82 boxes of documentation, though only a fraction of it was papal correspondence.
Gaenswein said he saw both original and photocopied documents dating as far back as 2006, and that he could tell the originals from the stamps and seals that are affixed to letters when they are processed by his office.
In an indication of the respect Gabriele still feels for Gaenswein, he stood up from his bench when Gaenswein entered the courtroom and then again when he exited. Gaenswein didn't acknowledge him.
On Tuesday, two members of the Vatican gendarmes testified that they spent more than seven hours in Gabriele's apartment sifting through his documentation, trying at first to take only what was pertinent to the case. As the night wore on, though, they decided to cart it all off because there was too much to go through and they didn't want to inconvenience Gabriele's family through the night.
They said they found documentation about the secret services, the Freemason secret society and the case of a prominent Catholic editor who was forced to resign after a smear campaign in the Italian press accusing him, based on forged documents, of having pursued a homosexual liaison. Some of that documentation appeared in Nuzzi's book "His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI's secret papers."
The book became an immediate blockbuster when it was published May 20, detailing intrigue and scandals inside the Apostolic Palace. The leaked documents seemed primarily aimed at discrediting Benedict's No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, often criticized for perceived shortcomings in running the Vatican administration.
During the testimony, the lawyer Arru complained about the conditions under which Gabriele spent his first 20 days in detention — conditions which Gabriele said contributed to his "psychological pressures." He complained that he had been denied a pillow the first night.
Dalla Torre asked the prosecutor to open an investigation, which he did.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the size of the cell conformed to international standards and that, anyway, Gabriele was moved to a bigger cell after it was renovated.
The Vatican police responded quickly to Arru's accusation with a lengthy statement insisting that Gabriele's rights had been respected, citing the meals, free time, socializing, spiritual assistance and health care that Gabriele enjoyed during his nearly two months of detention. They said the lights were kept on for security reasons and to ensure Gabriele didn't harm himself, and that he had a mask he could use to block out the light.
The police warned that they may file a counter complaint against Arru if the investigation shows no wrongdoing on their part.
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