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October 3, 2012

Vatican police testify in trial of pope's butler

VATICAN CITY — Vatican police said Wednesday they found thousands of documents hidden inside the home of Pope Benedict XVI's former butler, including original documents signed by the pope bearing indications they should be destroyed.

The police officers testified in the trial of Paolo Gabriele, the pope's once-trusted butler who faces four years in prison if convicted of aggravated theft for allegedly stealing papal documents and leaking them.

Prosecutors have said Gabriele, a devout 46-year-old father of three, confessed to leaking copies of the documents to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi because he wanted to expose the "evil and corruption" in the church to help put it back on the right path.

The documents have ignited an uproar, for they revealed infighting and alleged corruption in the Vatican as the pope grows older and more frail. The security breach has been one of the most damaging scandals of Benedict's seven-year papacy.

Gabriele said Tuesday he stood by his June 5 confession and acknowledged he betrayed the pope's trust, but he nevertheless pleaded innocent to the charge of aggravated theft.

The final four witnesses in the trial were heard Wednesday and closing arguments are set for Saturday, when a verdict by the three-judge Vatican panel is expected.

A separate Vatican investigation began Tuesday after Gabriele's attorney complained that her client endured improper detention conditions during his first 20 days in jail. On Wednesday, the officer in charge of Gabriele's care defended his treatment and said Gabriele "repeatedly" thanked him for taking such good care of him and his family.

Wednesday's testimony inside the Vatican tribunal played out against the backdrop of a surreal scene nearby in St. Peter's Square: As Benedict presided over his weekly general audience, a man who eluded Vatican security sat perched on the dome of the basilica with a banner saying "Help! Enough Monti!" — a reference to Italian Premier Mario Monti and his austerity measures that are aimed at taming Italy's massive debt.

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