Trial reveals papal butler's interest in Masonry, Church scandals

By David Kerr

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Pope Benedict's former butler Paolo Gabriele (R), sits at the start of the trial Sept. 29, 2012 at the Vatican. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano/CNA.

The judges presiding over the trial of the Pope's former butler heard today that his apartment contained piles of documents and newspaper cuttings about Masonic lodges, the occult and previous scandals involving the Church and state in Italy.

The evidence was presented during the third day of the criminal trial against Paolo Gabriele. The 46-year-old Italian stands accused of the “aggravated theft” of documents, including private papal correspondence. He denies the charge, while saying that he feels guilty of betraying Pope Benedict’s trust.

Four police officers who carried out the May 23 search of Gabriele's apartment testified Oct. 3 before a three-judge panel in the Vatican City State’s courtroom. Gabriele was arrested shortly after the search was conducted.

The officers described how they had found large piles of papers in wardrobes, cabinets and on shelving at the Gabriele apartment. These documents, they stated, included personal correspondence between Pope Benedict and various cardinals, along with encrypted communications from papal ambassadors around the world.

One of the police officers, Stefano De Santis, told the court how some of the papers were marked in German “to be destroyed,” written in the Pope’s handwriting. He also asserted that deciphering even one of the encrypted documents could “threaten the operations” of the Holy See's diplomatic corps.

Paolo Gabriele worked in the Papal Household under both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He was one of very few individuals who had daily access to the Pope. Within the close-knit family atmosphere of the Papal Apartment, Gabriele was affectionately nicknamed “Paoletto” or “little Paul”.

“This was a total violation of the privacy of the papal family,” said De Santis, speaking of the “unease” the discoveries caused the Vatican's police officers.

He explained that once the search team discovered documents they believed matched those leaked to Italian journalists, they decided “to take away everything.”

In total, 82 crates of documents and other material were removed from Gabriele’s apartment and the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo during the police investigation.

Another officer, Silvano Carli, told the court that in the end only around 1,000 pages of material were deemed relevant to the criminal case.

Paolo Gabriele was present in the courtroom throughout the 75-minute evidence session. It was revealed that he chose to stay in his private apartment during the police search in May, along with his wife and three children.

His defense lawyer, Cristiana Arru, questioned the search methods employed, including why none of the police officers wore gloves while handling the potentially sensitive documents. The officers said this conformed to standard practice.

The trial was adjourned until Saturday when both sides will give their final speeches. It is also thought that a verdict could be delivered on the same day. If Gabriele is found guilty, a prison sentence of up to four years in an Italian jail awaits him.

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