By David Kerr
The trial of the Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler began this morning at the Vatican as the 46-year-old Paolo Gabriele faced charges that he stole confidential Vatican documents.
Gabriele made no plea and remained silent throughout his appearance before a panel of three judges in the Vatican courtroom on Sept. 29. Wearing a light grey suit, eyewitnesses say Gabriele’s demeanor varied from tense to jovial.
The hearing lasted for just over two hours before being adjourned until Tuesday, Oct. 2. The trial could be dealt with in as little as four sessions.
The Vatican court typically deals with around 30 cases a year but they involve minor crimes like bags being stolen or other crimes that target tourists. The last major crime for the Vatican was the 1998 murder of the commander of the Swiss Guard and his wife. The alleged killer, a fellow Swiss Guard, was never brought to trial because he committed suicide just after shooting the pair.
Gabriele was charged in May with the “the “aggravated theft” of documents, including private papal correspondence. His arrest followed several months of so-called Vatileaks in which numerous sensitive internal Vatican papers were passed on to the Italian media.
The court heard that, 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.
It was revealed that 13 people are scheduled to appear as witnesses during the trial, including the Pope’s private secretary, Monsignor Georg Gänswein, and the head of the Vatican Gendarmerie, Domenico Giani.
The court also decided to separate the trial of Gabriele from his alleged conspirator, Vatican computer expert Claudio Sciarpelletti.
Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI gave the task of finding those responsible for the leaks to both the Vatican Gendarmerie and a special commission of three cardinals chaired by Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz.
Today the court decided that the trial of Gabriele would only admit evidence amassed by the Gendarmerie but not material gathered by the cardinals.
Paolo Gabriele is an Italian father of three who 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 is affectionately nicknamed “Paoletto” or “little Paul.”
If he is found guilty, a prison sentence of up to four years in an Italian jail awaits him.
No television cameras are allowed into the Vatican courtroom. Instead, group of eight Vatican-accredited journalists were selected to observe the case first-hand. They then briefed the rest of the press after the court proceedings finished for the day.