During trial Paolo Gabriele says he was innocent of theft but felt guilty for betraying the Holy Father

Paolo Gabriele, the papal butler charged with stealing and leaking papal correspondence, has said he is innocent of aggravated theft but felt “guilty for having betrayed the trust the Holy Father placed in me”.

During the second day of his trial he said he loved the Pope “like a son”.

The morning session of the trial also featured testimony by Cristina Cernetti, a consecrated lay woman who works in the papal apartment, and by Mgr Georg Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s personal secretary.

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Mgr Gänswein, who described himself as “extremely precise”, said he never noticed any documents missing, but when he examined what Vatican police had confiscated from the butler’s Vatican flat, discovered photocopies and originals of documents going back to 2006, when Mr Gabriele began work in the papal apartment.

Taking the stand first Mr Gabriele said widespread concern about what was happening in the Vatican led him to collect photocopies of private papal correspondence and, eventually, to leak it to a journalist.

“I was looking for a person with whom I could vent about a situation that had become insupportable for many in the Vatican,” he said.

Mr Gabriele told the court that no one encouraged him to steal the documents.

Although he said he acted on his own initiative, he told the court he did so after “sharing confidences” about the “general atmosphere” in the Vatican with four people in particular: retired Cardinal Paolo Sardi, a former official in the Vatican Secretariat of State, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica, Ingrid Stampa, a long-term assistant to Pope Benedict XVI, going back to his time as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi, who worked in the Secretariat of State until 2011.

Mr Gabriele said he began seriously collecting documents in 2010 after Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, then secretary-general of Vatican City State, was reported to have run into resistance in his attempt to bring spending under control and bring transparency to the process of granting contracts to outside companies. The archbishop is now nuncio to the United States.

Asked to describe his role in the papal household, Mr Gabriele said he served Pope Benedict his meals, informed the Vatican Secretariat of State of the gifts given to the Pope, packed the Pope’s suitcases and accompanied him on trips, and did other “small tasks” assigned to him by Mgr Gänswein. “I was the layman closest to the Holy Father, there to respond to his immediate needs,” Mr Gabriele said.

Being so close to the Pope, Mr Gabriele said he became aware of how “easy it is to manipulate the one who holds decision-making power in his hands”.

He had told investigators that he had acted out of concern for the Pope, who he believed was not being fully informed about the corruption and careerism in the Vatican. Under questioning by his lawyer, he said he never showed any of the documents to the Pope, but tried, conversationally, to bring concerns to the Pope’s attention.

The Vatican prosecutor objected to any further questioning about Mr Gabriele’s motives, saying they “do not matter, we must discuss the facts”. The judges agreed and ordered the defendant’s lawyer to move on.

Mr Gabriele’s lawyer also asked him several questions about the 60 days he spent in Vatican detention, including whether or not it was true that he first was held in a tiny room and that, for the first 15 to 20 days, the Vatican police left the lights on 24 hours a day. Mr Gabriele said both were true.

Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, later told reporters that the Vatican prosecutor had opened an investigation into the conditions under which Mr Gabriele was detained.

Vatican investigators had said they found in Mr Gabriele’s Vatican flat three items given to Pope Benedict as gifts: a cheque for £80,000; a nugget, presumably of gold, from the director of a gold-mining company in Peru; and a 16th-century edition of a translation of the Aeneid.

Mr Gabriele denied the nugget was ever in his flat and he said he had no idea how the cheque got there. He said it was normal for him to take books home to show his children.

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