Wednesday 25 April 2018

Vatileaks: Vatican orders probe of police for 'abuse' of Pope's butler after arrest

Pope Benedict XVI has returned to the Vatican in time for the trial of his former butler, who is accused of theft (AP)
Pope Benedict XVI has returned to the Vatican in time for the trial of his former butler, who is accused of theft (AP)

THE Pope’s butler, who is accused of stealing sensitive documents, declared his innocence in court on Tuesday and accused Vatican police of mistreating him during his incarceration.

In a surprise development, the judge in charge of the trial of Paolo Gabriele ordered Vatican prosecutors to open an investigation into whether the valet was held in inhumane conditions, as it emerged that he was kept in a tiny cell with the lights on 24 hours a day for up to 20 days.

The butler disclosed details of his incarceration in a “secure room” in the headquarters of the Vatican gendarmerie, the Pope's police force, during cross-examination by his lawyer.

He said that the cell that he was initially held after his arrest on May 20 was so narrow that he could not stretch out his arms.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, insisted that the size of the cell, and the conditions under which Mr Gabriele was held for just over two months, conformed to international standards.

“I did not have the impression that the conditions harmed the dignity of the prisoner,” Father Lombardi said, adding that the 46-year-old valet received visits from lawyers, priests, medics and his family. “He received very humane treatment.”

Mr Gabriele was arrested in late May on suspicion of theft, but it took time to prepare a larger, more comfortable cell, Father Lombardi said.

Speaking in court for the first time since the trial started on Saturday, Mr Gabriele denied the one charge he faces – that of the “aggravated theft” of hundreds of documents, some of which were allegedly taken from the desk of Benedict XVI.

“In relation to the accusation of aggravated theft, I declare myself innocent,” he told the court in the Vatican tribunal building, within the walls of the city state.

“(But) I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, who loved me like a son.”

Mr Gabriele is accused of stealing the documents and passing them onto an Italian journalist, who published them in a book in May. If found guilty he faces four years behind bars.

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