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Anatomy of Vatican scandal: How the butler did it

Friday - 10/5/2012, 2:34pm  ET

Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) - 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 Benedict'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 on Saturday will decide whether Gabriele is guilty of aggravated theft, 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 immediate blockbuster when it was published in May. Gabriele 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 a Hollywood-like plot to sneak the documents out of the Apostolic Palace under the cover of darkness to a waiting journalist outside the Vatican walls, who then exposed them on TV and in the most talked-about book of 2012.

Gabriele himself told the court this week that he became increasingly "scandalized" when, as he would serve Benedict his lunch, the pope would ask questions about issues he should have been informed about. That suggested to Gabriele 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," 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 a July 21 interrogation.

Gabriele told Nuzzi 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, Gabriele almost boasted that he would copy the letters in broad daylight, during his 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. 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 mail that would come in daily to the office inboxes, even documentation that was on Gaenswein's desk.

"The photocopier was in the corner, on the opposite side of the office," Gabriele told the court as his lawyer handed out a floor-plan of the shared space. "I did it while I was in the office, since I was free to move around and didn't have any wicked aims. I did it calmly, even in the presence of others."

At the same time, Gabriele would also discuss Vatican problems with any number of trusted acquaintances he would run into on his walk home from the palace. On foot, the walk should take three to four minutes, he said, but sometimes he didn't get home until 4 p.m. 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, Gabriele insisted he had no accomplices, recanting statements to prosecutors 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, Gabriele 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 in the study near his children's' PlayStation. A dining room cabinet held the rest.

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