The one-time butler to Benedict XVI, Paolo Gabriele, died on 22 November after a long illness. Prompting tabloid cries of “the butler did it”, he was the man at the heart of the Vatileaks scandal in 2012.
Over the course of a year, Gabriele leaked hundreds of pontifical documents detailing corruption and mismanagement of Vatican affairs to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.
Gabriele, who lived minutes from the papal residence and frequently prayed with the Holy Father at morning mass, had risen a long way from the working- class district of Rome he was born into.
His ascension was the product of a chance encounter with a bishop, accord- ing to a 2013 profile in GQ.
To fund his fine art studies, Gabriele worked part-time at a local church, scrubbing toilets. During a visit to the church, the cleric was so impressed by the spotless porcelain of the loos that he asked to meet Gabriele.
Hired by the Secretariat of State soon afterwards, Gabriele was encouraged by his patron to apply for a role in the Apostolic Palace – the papal household – which he did. And in 2007 he became Benedict’s butler.
He later said he loved the pope, “as a son would”, but working with him, he came to believe that the Holy Father was unaware of the goings-on around him.
“I started believing that it is easy to manipulate a person that has such enormous powers in his hands,” Gabriele said at his trial. “Sometimes the pope asked questions about things he should have been informed about.”
Reaching out to Nuzzi through acquaintances, he met secretly with the journalist in 2011. Only meeting in person, the two never communicated via phone or email. At pre-arranged dates, Gabriele would bring documents to Nuzzi, taping them to his back or sew- ing a flash drive into his tie to get them past Vatican security.
Nuzzi first released the leaks on his television programme The Untouchables, in January 2012. During the broadcast, he detailed correspondence from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the US, to Benedict and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State.
In two letters, Vigano demanded a clean-up of corruption in the Vatican finances and complained of a campaign of defamation against him.
Previously the number two administrator in the Vatican and a point man on financial reform, Vigano was made nuncio (ambassador) to the United States in 2011. In one letter, he claimed that his being sent overseas would undermine efforts at financial reform.
In May 2012, Nuzzi used his book, His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Ben- edict XVI, to publish more documents portraying Bertone in a negative light. Two weeks after the book’s publication, Gabriele went to a confessor and turned himself in.
At his trial, he did not dispute taking the documents, but he objected to the charge of “aggravated theft”, saying he was guilty of betraying the pope’s trust.
Describing himself as an “agent” of the Holy Spirit, he said he “acted exclusively out of love, […] a visceral love, for the Church of Christ and its visible representative”.
“I was sure that a shock, even in the media, might be just the thing to bring the Church back on the right track,” he told the court.
Sentenced to 18 months in prison, Gabriele was pardoned by Benedict and released to house arrest after two.
Following his release, the father of three was given a new home outside the Vatican by the Church, working in a Vatican-run pediatric hospital in Rome until his death.
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