VATICAN CITY — The pope's once-trusted butler went on trial Saturday for allegedly stealing papal documents and passing them off to a journalist in the worst security breach of the Vatican's recent history — a case that embarrassed the Vatican and may shed some light on the discreet, internal workings of the papal household.
In its first hearing in the case, the three-judge tribunal threw out some evidence gathered during the investigation of butler Paolo Gabriele, 46, who is charged with aggravated theft. It also decided to separate Gabriele's trial from that of his co-defendant, a computer expert charged with aiding and abetting the crime.
Gabriele is accused of taking the pope's correspondences, photocopying them and giving them to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book His Holiness: The secret papers of Pope Benedict XVI, was published to great fanfare in May.
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 longtime trusted deputy. Bertone, 77, a canon lawyer and soccer enthusiast, has frequently been criticized for perceived shortcomings in running the Vatican.
On Saturday, the court also announced that the pope's personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, had been called as a witness, testimony that is sure to attract attention given that Gaenswein rarely speaks in public, much less about details of the intimate, papal family.
Gabriele faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted. He has already confessed, saying he leaked the documents to shed light on the ''evil and corruption" in the church, and asked to be pardoned by the pope.