The Pope’s Butler Takes the Stand

The Pope's Butler serves wine to Pope Benedict XVI. Freeze Frame of Vatican TV file footage 2007

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.

Pope's Butler Paolo Gabriele in court on the opening day of his trial, Sept. 30, 2012. Freeze frame of Vatican TV footage.

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.

Pope Benedict XVI with his personal secretary Monsignor Georg Ganswein at Pope's Weekly Audience.

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)

The Pope's Butler sitting next to the driver in the front seat of the Popemobile during the Pope's weekly audience. Freeze frame of APTN video shot by Gianfranco Stara.

12 thoughts on “The Pope’s Butler Takes the Stand”

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Got to love the Good-looking Monsignor in his black skirts and fuchsia sash! Ah, the color and intrigue at the Vatican is endless!

  1. It was the butler with the wine bottle in the popemobile. I see a new clue game in the makings. Nice to see MM back again!

  2. Trisha — I love your blog. I am a long time family friend since our days in Bangladesh (E. Pak.) Your insightful cross cultural observations are such a joy to read — and I share them with my grand daughters as they are now exploring the world. I always love reading what is going on with Mozzarella Mamma.
    A true fan. Ruth Downing

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Dear Ruth — thank you so much for your comment, I am so glad to hear you are a fan. I have gone back to some Kenya days for some posts, but I still haven’t delved back into our years in Bangladesh. I feel some ideas coming to me at this very moment….
      Right now I am bogged down in the Vatican butler story. Today at the Vatican we were distracted from the butler story by an unhappy man who has spent the past 24 hours perched on the dome of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in a protest against Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s policies. He is still up there now. No time to post on that today though. Thanks so much for following. Best, Trisha

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Alan — my goodness, you always make me laugh. I think it will be the Iron Maiden….they must have one hanging around there somewhere.

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