He once poured red wine for a Pope dressed from head to toe in white, careful not to spill a drop…but while impeccable in his table service, the Pope’s butler was spilling much more, delivering private documents from the Papal apartments directly into the hands of an Italian investigative journalist.
The Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, took the stand in his trial Tuesday for aggravated theft declaring “regarding the accusation of aggravated theft, I declare I am innocent. I feel guilty of betraying the Holy Father who I love as a son would.”
Gabriele, wearing a grey suit and appearing pale, denied that he had stolen a gold nugget and a check for 100,000 Euro that the Vatican police, known as Gendarmes, said they found in his apartment, along with documents filling 82 boxes.
Gabriele said he regularly photocopied the documents in the office that he shared with the Pope’s secretaries. He told the court he acted alone but reeled off a list of names including two Cardinals, an Italian bishop and a former German governess to the Pope who may have pushed him to act.
Gabriele apparently wanted to expose “evil and corruption” in the church and has said he was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Following Gabriele’s much-awaited testimony, the Pope’s dashing personal secretary Monsignor Georg Ganswein was brought into the courtroom. Gabriele jumped to his feet on the entrance of Ganswein, and, according to those present, Ganswein did not acknowledge him. Ganswein told the courtroom that “I would judge myself to be a precise person, actually very precise, but I never noticed that documents were missing.”
Ganswein had a rude awakening last spring when Italian investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published his book “His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI” in which two private documents that had been on his desk appeared in the book.
There were others in the courtroom today….a demure papal housekeeper was called in as a witnesses as well as one of the gendarmes who conducted the search in the butler’s home.
The defense lawyer complained of mistreatment of the defendant by the Vatican noting that in his first cell he could not extend his arms, and that the light was left on his his room 24 hours a day for nearly 20 days. The Vatican has opened an investigation into the butler’s treatment.
Now while all this drama was unfolding inside the courtroom today, I was outside the Vatican walls with dozens of journalists and tv crews. Only 8 print journalists were allowed inside in a pool. Their phones were removed and there was an embargo on all reporting of events in the courtroom until after those 8 journalists briefed all of us on the morning’s events.
On the Mamma front, life was made more difficult by a day long transport strike, a very common occurence in Rome, and the disadvantage of being a Mamma working on the outside of the Vatican walls, and not in the courtroom, was that I still had my cell phone on me and had to do the usual multi-tasking, sorting school pick-ups and doctor’s appointments while worrying about the importance of gold nuggets and narrow jail cells for my story.
The trial is expected to wind up this week. If the butler is convicted he could get four years in prison, but most people around the Vatican believe the Pope will grant him a pardon.
(for more information on this story, see my earlier post: The Butler Did It)
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.