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.
The Vatican said the man had refused offers to meet with government ministers if he came down.
Inside the tribunal, Vatican police inspector Silvano Carli told the court Wednesday that of the hundreds of thousands of papers seized from Gabriele's home — they filled 82 boxes — about 1,000 were of interest since they were original or photocopied Vatican documents.
Some came from the pope's office, some carried the processing codes of the secretariat of state, others originated in various Vatican congregations "and some documents concerned the total privacy and private life of the Holy Father," said police officer Stefano De Santis.
He said some of the originals carried the pope's handwriting with a note to destroy them written in German. Some were reproduced in Nuzzi's book "His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI's secret papers," he said.
The vast majority of the documents concerned esoteric religious issues and academic research into Freemasonry, Christianity, Buddhism, yoga and politicians, as well as the Vatican bank, the officers said.
"'See how much I like to read and study,'" De Santis quoted Gabriele as telling the officers during the May 23 search of his home, which resulted in his arrest.
The Vatican police, who protect the pope alongside the Swiss Guards, emphasized the vast amount of documentation found, listing the subject matter in virtually the same order even though they hadn't heard each other's testimony.
Vatican police vice commissioner Luca Cintia was also questioned about his participation in the May 23 search, but he asked to address the court about allegations that Gabriele had been subject to improper detention conditions.
Gabriele attorney Cristiana Arru says her client spent his first 20 days in detention in a cell where he couldn't stretch his arms fully and where the lights were kept on 24 hours a day.
The Vatican defended its treatment of Gabriele, noting that the cell conformed to international standards, saying that the lights were kept on as a security measure and to prevent Gabriele from harming himself. It said he even asked for them to be kept on so he wouldn't be so lonely.
"He was treated with kid gloves," Cintia testified, adding that Gabriele had "repeatedly" thanked his jailers for treating him and his family so well.
Neither Arru nor her predecessor had ever mentioned improper detention conditions to the press before. Arru said the positive characterization applied after he had been moved to a larger cell and not during his initial detention.
Yet on May 28, five days after his arrest when Gabriele was still in the small cell, Gabriele's then lead lawyer, Carlo Fusco, issued a statement saying his client was "very serene and calm" and made no complaint about his detention conditions.
The Vatican police have warned that they might file a counter complaint against Arru and Gabriele if the Vatican investigation into their allegations is unfounded.
With the last of the witnesses heard Wednesday, part of Arru's defense strategy appeared to take shape: She asked each officer if he had participated in a separate search of Gabriele's apartment in Castel Gandolfo, where the pope spends his summers.
Vatican police are entitled to inspect areas outside of Vatican City without explicit authorization from Italian authorities. But Vatican police not only inspected the Castel Gandolfo apartment, they seized 37 documents from it as well.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said no explicit authorization was needed from Italian authorities since the seized documentation concerned Vatican material found in a Vatican service apartment. Regardless, he said, the court won't admit the documentation since it came from outside Vatican City.
Arru has questioned why no inventory of the documentation was ever made.
Arru also asked each officer about a nugget, thought to be gold, and a check made out to the pope for €100,000 ($125,000) that police said were found in Gabriele's Vatican City apartment. Gabriele testified he never saw the nugget or the check before.
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