x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Vatican police probe ordered after Pope's ex-butler claims abuse

Pope Benedict's former butler tells theft trial he was held in tiny room with no lights or pillow.

VATICAN CITY // Pope Benedict's former butler, facing trial for stealing papal documents, told a Vatican court yesterday that he was held in a tiny room and put under psychological pressure in the first few weeks of his detention.

"For the first 15 to 20 days the light was on 24 hours a day and there was no switch. As a result my eyesight was damaged," Paulo Gabriele testified.

A judge ordered an investigation into the Vatican police force after Mr Gabriele made the assertions during the second day of his trial.

Mr Gabriele pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated theft. He is accused of passing documents alleging corruption in the Vatican to a journalist. But he said in his testimony that he considered himself "guilty of betraying the trust of the Holy Father".

The session, which also included testimony from Pope Benedict's private secretary, laid bare some of the inner-workings of the Vatican for the first time.

Asked by his lawyer, Cristiana Arru, if it was true that for the first weeks after his arrest on May 23 he was held in a room so narrow that he could not stretch out his arms, he replied "yes".

He also said he was subjected to what he and his lawyer described as psychological pressure.

On the first night in the room in the Vatican's police station "even a pillow was denied me", he said.

After hearing the accusations of abuse, the president of the three-judge panel, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, told the Vatican prosecutor, Nicola Picardi, to open a file on the issue.

Georg Ganswein, Pope Benedict's private secretary, appeared uncomfortable during his testimony as he spoke about the daily routines of the papal household and the moment he began to suspect that Mr Gabriele was the source of the embarrassing leaks.

Mr Gabriele, who appeared calm during the three-hour session, suggested that important information had been held from the pope.

"At times the pope asked questions about things he should have been informed about," Mr Gabriele said.

It was the first time the 46-year-old servant has spoken publicly since his arrest.

The papers Gabriele admits that he photocopied and passed on at secret meetings include letters to the pope in which a senior Vatican functionary expressed concern about improper behaviour in the Holy See's business dealings.

The leaks were a blow to the Vatican, which has been eager to clean up its image after a series of scandals involving its bank.

A summary of the inquiry's results released in August showed Gabriele acted because he saw "evil and corruption everywhere in the Church" and felt that the pope was not sufficiently informed.

The trial was adjourned until today.