Paolo Gabriel faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted of aggravated theft, in the worst security breach in the Vatican’s recent history

The trial of the pope’s ex-butler Paolo Gabriele, accused of having stolen confidential documents which were then leaked to the media, opened at a Vatican court on Saturday, the Vatican said

The 46-year-old Vatican citizen and father of three was arrested in May and charged with aggravated theft in August, when he was placed under house arrest.

Paolo Gabriel faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted of aggravated theft, in the worst security breach in the Vatican’s recent history. He has already confessed, saying he acted to shed light on what he called “evil and corruption” in the church, and asked to be pardoned by the pope.

While the Holy See has seen its fair share of sensational trials in 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake after being condemned by a Vatican court for heresy.

Gabriele, who was replaced as papal butler after his May 24 arrest, is accused of taking the pope’s correspondences, photocopying the documents and handing them off to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book “His Holiness -The secret papers of Pope Benedict XVI,” was published to great fanfare in May.

The most damaging letter reproduced in the book was written by the former No. 2 Vatican administrator to the pope, in which he begged not to be transferred as punishment for exposing alleged corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts. The prelate, Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano, is now the Vatican’s U.S. ambassador.

Nuzzi has said his source, code-named “Maria” in the book, wanted to shed light on the secrets of the church that were damaging it. Taken as a whole, the documents seem aimed primarily at discrediting Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state and Benedict’s trusted deputy.

Access to Gabriele’s trial is limited, in part due to space constraints - While the court is technically open to the public, those requesting access must petition the judges to be allowed in. Eight journalists will attend each session and report back to the Vatican press corps. No television, still cameras or recording devices are allowed, and the court transcripts won’t be available to the public.

“Benedict could have pardoned Gabriele as soon as he was arrested or charged, precluding any trial from getting off the ground. Instead he allowed the trial to go ahead, evidence of the courage the Vatican is showing to be more transparent,” Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi has said.

“Seeing evil and corruption everywhere in the church ... I was sure that a shock, even a media one, would have been healthy to bring the church back on the right track,” Gabriele was quoted by prosecutors as saying during a June 5 interrogation.

Benedict himself addressed the scandal for the first time a week after Gabriele was arrested, saying the news had “brought sadness in my heart.” But in a nod to his continued confidence in Bertone, he added- “I want to renew my trust in and encouragement of my closest collaborators and all those who every day, with loyalty and a spirit of sacrifice and in silence help me fulfil my ministry.”

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