Vatican Orders Probe of Police for "Abuse" of Pope's Butler after Arrest
October 2, 2012
The Pope’s butler accused the Vatican of mistreating him during his two month incarceration, alleging that he was kept in a tiny cell with the lights on 24 hours a day for up to 20 days.
|Paolo Gabriele Photo: AP|
In a surprise development, the judge in charge of the trial of Paolo Gabriele, accused of stealing confidential documents from the Pope’s office, ordered an investigation into whether he had been held in inhumane conditions.
The investigation will only add to the Vatican’s embarrassment over the scandal which has thrown the Holy See open to open to unprecedented scrutiny.
Speaking publicly for the first time since his arrest in May, Mr Gabriele disclosed details of his incarceration in an isolation cell in the headquarters of the Vatican gendarmerie, the Pope’s police force.
He said that the cell that he was initially held in after his arrest was so narrow that he could not stretch out his arms and that the bright lights had damaged his vision and left him depressed.
“For the first 15-20 days the light was on 24 hours a day and there was no switch. As a result my eyesight was damaged,” Mr Gabriele told the Vatican court.
He claimed to have been subjected to what his lawyer called psychological pressure.
On his first night in what the Vatican initially called a “secure room” in the Gendarmerie barracks, “even a pillow was denied me,” he said.
The Vatican Gendarmerie, which consists of 130 officers, issued a lengthy rebuttal of his accusations, saying that the lights were kept on constantly “for security” and because there were fears that the butler might try to harm himself.
He had been given an eye mask to shield his face from the glare and was checked “discreetly” at intervals during the night, the police said. “His principal rights, even regarding his privacy, were never violated,” the Gendarmerie claimed.
Gendarmes said Mr Gabriele was given special privileges, being allowed to use the gendarmerie gym, to socialise with officers, many of whom he knew before his arrest, and to attend Mass.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, insisted that the size of the cell, and the conditions under which Mr Gabriele was held, conformed to international standards. “He received very humane treatment,” he said.
The butler was later moved to a larger, more comfortable cell, Father Lombardi said.
In court, Mr Gabriele denied the one charge he faces — that of the “aggravated theft” of hundreds of documents, despite the fact that they were allegedly found in his apartment in the Vatican.
“In relation to the accusation of aggravated theft, I declare myself innocent,” he said. “(But) I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, who I love like a son (would love a father).”
When police raided his apartment on May 23 they took away 82 boxes of evidence, including material on the Italian secret services and the masons, the court was told.
Investigators also found, hidden in a shoebox, two gifts intended for the Pope — a gold nugget and a cheque made out for 100,000 euros from a Catholic university in Spain.
Mr Gabriele has previously said he was inspired by “the Holy Spirit” and motivated by an urge to root out “evil and corruption” in the Holy See.
During covert encounters, he passed the papers to an Italian investigative journalist, who published them in a book in May.
If found guilty the butler, who is married with three children, faces four years behind bars.
He claimed that he had “no accomplices”, but was in regular contact with several senior Vatican figures, including two cardinals and Ingrid Stampa, a German woman who is a trusted confidante of the Pope and employed in his household.
But as he tried to recount details of his network of contacts, he was repeatedly interrupted by the judge, Giuseppe Dalla Torre.
Mr Gabriele said he leaked the documents because he believed that Benedict, 85, was being “manipulated” by figures within the Holy See.
He said that he had made photocopies of the documents during office hours, often in plain view of colleagues in the office he shared with the Pope’s two private secretaries.
He made two copies of every document and gave one batch to his “confessor”, a mystery figure identified only as “Padre Giovanni”, who reportedly burned the whole lot after he realised that they had been stolen.
The trial was adjourned until Wednesday and is expected to conclude by the end of the week.
Maurizio Turco, an Italian MP, called for international observers to be sent to check conditions in the Vatican’s holding cells.
“The situation in the Vatican is no less disgraceful than that in Italian prisons,” he said. “We are calling for the urgent intervention of international observers who can check detention conditions within the walls of the so-called Holy See.”