VATICAN CITY – The popes once-trusted butler went on trial Saturday for allegedly stealing papal documents and passing them off to a journalist in the worst security breach of the Vaticans recent history – a case that embarrassed the Vatican and may shed further light on the discreet, internal workings of the papal household.
In its first hearing in the case, the three-judge Vatican tribunal threw out some evidence gathered during the investigation of butler Paolo Gabriele, who is charged with aggravated theft. It also decided to separate Gabrieles trial from that of his co-defendant, a computer expert charged with aiding and abetting the crime.
Gabriele is accused of taking the popes correspondences, photocopying the documents and handing them to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book His Holiness: The secret papers of Pope Benedict XVI, was published to great fanfare in May.
Prosecutors have said Gabriele confessed to taking the documents because he wanted to expose the evil and corruption in the church. They quoted him as saying during an interrogation that he felt inspired by the Holy Spirit to inform the pope about the churchs problems and that a shock, even a media one, would have been healthy to bring the church back on the right track.
Nuzzi on Saturday wished Gabriele well, tweeting Good Luck, courageous Paoletto, were with you. He referred to Gabriele by the diminutive nickname used by the pope and other members of the papal household.
The trial inside the intimate, austere courtroom was the highest-profile case to come before the Vatican judiciary since the 1929 founding of the Vatican city state, the worlds smallest sovereign state.
Gabriele faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted. He has already asked to be pardoned by the pope, something most Vatican watchers say is a given.