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Trial of pope's butler: Journalists admitted, but secret evidence not

Paolo Gabriele, the once-trusted valet who used to dress the 85-year-old German pontiff, is charged under Vatican law with the 'aggravated theft' of confidential papers.

By Correspondent / September 30, 2012

In this photo released by the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, the pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, sits in the wood-trimmed courtroom of the Vatican tribunal, at the Vatican, Saturday. The Vatican opened the public trial Saturday of Mr. Gabriele for allegedly stealing and leaking papal correspondence to a journalist, the most embarrassing scandal of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy.

L'Osservatore Romano/AP

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Vatican City

Pope Benedict XVI’s personal butler will be cross-examined by a Vatican court on Tuesday in a closely-watched trial in which he is accused of stealing highly sensitive documents, some of them from the desk of the pope himself.

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The trial opened on Saturday in a wood-paneled courtroom in a Vatican tribunal within the walls of the tiny city-state. The case inevitably has garnered headlines given that it revolves around the great mystery cliche: "Did the butler do it?" Or rather, "was it only the butler who did it?"

The documents at the heart of the case have lifted the lid on corruption at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church, which is still battered by revelations of clerical coverups of child sexual abuse. With this case, the Vatican is trying to showcase greater transparency, allowing a pool of journalists to cover each meeting. Experts, however, say that the latest saga does not help the Vatican's already damaged image.

“It is certainly embarrassing for the Vatican, but I’m not sure it will resonate that much among ordinary Catholics around the world,” says Alessandro Speciale, Vatican correspondent for Religion News Service. “The church was already badly tarnished by the pedophile sex abuse scandals. That was much more serious.”

Paolo Gabriele, the once-trusted valet who used to dress the 85-year-old German pontiff and travel with him in his Popemobile, is charged under Vatican law with the “aggravated theft” of confidential papers from the pope’s private apartments and the Vatican secretariat of state.

Gold nugget, copy of the Aeneid

He is also accused of stealing an eclectic trio of gifts intended for the 85-year-old Pope Benedict: a gold nugget, a check from a benefactor to the pope for €100,000, and a 16th- century copy of "The Aeneid," the epic poem by Virgil.

All the items were allegedly found squirreled away in the Vatican apartment he shares with his family, not far from the pope’s apartments.

Mr. Gabriele, who is married with three children, is accused of passing the documents onto an Italian investigative journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi, who in May published them in an explosive book, “His Holiness – The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI.”

The papers, memos, and letters lifted the lid on allegations of corruption in the awarding of public works contracts, obstructing the reform of the Vatican bank, and a mud-slinging campaign involving false accusations of homosexual affairs.

Several of the documents cast a bad light on Tarcisio Bertone, who, as secretary of state, is the pope’s right-hand man and effectively the Vatican prime minister. Documents appear to show that Cardinal Bertone did his utmost to block efforts to clean up alleged corruption and cronyism within the city-state.

Reformer removed?

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a senior member of the Vatican administration, discovered that it was wasting millions of euros in overpaying for goods and services, for instance.

But Bertone allegedly had him removed from his post three years before his term was up and sent to faraway Washington as the pope’s nuncio, or ambassador.

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