Scandal at heart of the Vatican . . . how the papal butler did it
Published 06/10/2012 | 05:00
HE had the trust of Pope Benedict XVI and the cardinals, monsignors and priests who run the Roman Catholic Church. And because of his privileged position as papal butler, he had access to their deepest secrets: confidential letters, memos, financial reports.
From under the Pope's nose, Paolo Gabriele used the photocopier in the small office he shared with the two papal secretaries that adjoined the Pope's library, studio and chapel -- and, he says, started copying them all.
At first he kept the documents to himself. Then he found a journalist he trusted, and the intrigues and injustices he saw around him spread around the world in the gravest Vatican security breach of modern times.
A three-judge Vatican tribunal will today decide whether Mr Gabriele is guilty of aggravated theft. He is accused of stealing the Pope's private papers and leaking them to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book 'His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI's Secret Papers' became an instant blockbuster when it was published in May.
He has pleaded innocent, claiming he never took original documents, though he said he was guilty of "having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would."
From court documents, trial testimony and the book itself, the anatomy of the scandal has taken shape: they describe how a 46-year-old father of three, said by court-ordered psychiatrists to be unstable, desperate for attention and with illusions of grandeur, came to consider himself inspired by the Holy Spirit to expose the Vatican's dirty laundry for the sake of saving the church.
They demonstrate how he instigated an unfathomable Hollywood-like plot to sneak the documents out of the apostolic palace under the cover of darkness to a waiting journalist, who then exposed them on TV and in the most talked-about book of 2012.
Mr Gabriele told the court that he became increasingly "scandalised" when, as he would serve Benedict his lunch, the Pope would ask questions about issues he should have been informed about. That suggested to him that the Pope was being intentionally kept in the dark by his advisers.
"I had a unique and privileged occasion to mature the conviction that it's easy to manipulate someone with decision-making power," Mr Gabriele said of the Pope. "With the help of others like Nuzzi, I thought I could help things be seen more clearly," he told prosecutors in July.
Mr Gabriele told the journalist that he started copying documents sporadically soon after Benedict became Pope in 2005, and then in earnest in 2010 and 2011, when the No 2 Vatican administrator began complaining about a smear campaign launched against him for having uncovered corruption and waste in running the Vatican City state.
In his testimony, Mr Gabriele almost boasted that he would copy the letters in broad daylight, during his 7am-2.30pm. shift, while Monsignor Georg Gaenswein and the other papal secretary, Monsignor Alfred Xuereb, were at their desks facing his. He was free to sort through the daily mail, even documentation that was on Msgr Gaenswein's desk.
"The photocopier was in the corner, on the opposite side of the office," he told the court. "I I did it calmly, even in the presence of others."
At the same time, Mr Gabriele would also discuss Vatican problems with trusted acquaintances he would run into on his walk home from the palace. The walk should take three to four minutes, he said, but sometimes he didn't get home until 4pm because he would be stopped by so many highly-placed people who wanted to speak to him.
He named names, including cardinals and monsignors. But in his testimony this week, Mr Gabriele insisted he had no accomplices, recanting statements that his plot had been "suggested" to him by others.
Once home in the Vatican City apartment he shared with his wife and three children, he would file the papers away, "hidden" -- police would later say -- in between hundreds of thousands of pages of internet research on Freemasonry, secret service units, Christianity, Buddhism and yoga. He filled a floor-to-ceiling armoire with the documentation. A dining room cabinet held the rest.
"'See how much I like to read and study,'" a Vatican police officer quoted Mr Gabriele as telling the four officers who searched his home on May 23, the day he was taken into police custody.
It took 82 moving boxes to cart all the documents out, though police said only about 1,000 pages were pertinent to the investigation. Police and Msgr Gaenswein have said that -- contrary to the butler's claims -- they also contained original documents.
Some bore the Pope's handwriting, including the word "destroy" written at the top in German, police told the court.
It was Msgr Gaenswein who found the "gotcha" documents that pointed him to the culprit: three letters reproduced in the Nuzzi book that, he said, had never left his office.
Other documents could have been leaked at any point along the internal mail chain. These three, though, were addressed to Msgr Gaenswein: one from Italian TV host Bruno Vespa with a cheque for €10,000 and a request for a private papal audience; another from a Milan banker also containing a cheque; and an email from the Vatican spokesman that Msgr Gaenswein had printed out.
"These three didn't leave the room," he testified. "This was the moment I started to have doubts."
He convened a meeting on May 21, a day after the Nuzzi book came out: Mr Gabriele, Msgr Xuereb, the four consecrated women who tend to the papal household, and Birgit Wansing, who transcribes the Pope's tiny handwriting. Cristina Cernetti, one of the women, testified she knew it was the butler because she could "exclude everyone else" in the papal family.
Mr Gabriele denied he was the leaker. Two days later, Msgr Gaenswein again convened the tiny papal family to tell him he was suspended. A few hours later, he was in a Vatican jail cell.
Mr Gabriele has denied to prosecutors taking any originals, insisting he only made copies. And he has denied having ever seen a nugget believed to be gold and a cheque for $100,000 made out to the Pope that police said were found in his apartment. In their testimony, police were unable to say where exactly in his study they found the items.
Mr Gabriele faces four years in jail if convicted, though a papal pardon is widely expected.