By Nicole Winfield Associated Press
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI’s onetime butler declared Tuesday he was innocent of a charge of aggravated theft of the pope’s private correspondence, but acknowledged he photocopied the papers and said he feels guilty that he betrayed the trust of the pontiff he loves like a father.
Paolo Gabriele took the stand Tuesday in a Vatican courtroom to defend himself against accusations of his role in one of the most damaging scandals of Benedict’s pontificate. Prosecutors say Gabriele stole the pope’s letters and documents alleging power struggles and corruption inside the Vatican and leaked them to a journalist in an unprecedented papal security breach.
Gabriele faces four years in prison if he is found guilty, although most Vatican watchers expect he will receive a papal pardon if he is convicted.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Gabriele’s attorney complained that her client spent his first 20 days in Vatican detention in a room so small he couldn’t stretch his arms out and with lights kept on 24 hours a day. Vatican police swiftly defended their treatment of Gabriele, but the Vatican prosecutor opened an investigation regardless.
Prosecutors have said Gabriele, 46, has confessed to leaking copies of the documents to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, because he wanted to expose the “evil and corruption” in the church. They quoted him as saying in a June 5 interrogation that even though he knew taking the documents was wrong, he felt inspired by the Holy Spirit “to bring the church back on the right track.”
Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre asked Gabriele on Tuesday if he stood by his confession. Gabriele responded: “Yes.”
Asked, though, by his attorney Cristiana Arru how he responded to the charge of aggravated theft, Gabriele said: “I declare myself innocent concerning the charge of aggravated theft. I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would.”