Pope's ex-butler Gabriele 'kept top secret papers'

Paolo Gabriele (first from right) in court at the Vatican, 29 September Paolo Gabriele (first from right) said he loved the Pope like a son

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The former butler of Pope Benedict XVI kept documents that were considered top secret and were marked "to be destroyed", his trial has heard.

Police officers told the Vatican court they had found "dozens" of papers about the Pope and the Vatican in Paolo Gabriele's possession.

They also found a cheque for 100,000 euros (£80,000) made out to the Pope.

Mr Gabriele admits leaking papers to a journalist which revealed alleged corruption in the Holy See.

The landmark trial is due to end on Saturday, the Vatican has announced.

The officers said they also came across a small gold nugget and a rare old book in Mr Gabriele's home.

Commenting on those items, Mr Gabriele said he was allowed to borrow books from work sometimes, and he denied any knowledge of the piece of gold.

Start Quote

Some of the documents were signed by the Holy Father and some were in code with 'Destroy' written on them”

End Quote Luca Cintia Police officer

As for the cheque, he said he might have simply scooped it up by mistake as he carted off documents from the Pope's office, the BBC's Alan Johnston reports.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi confirmed the trial would end on Saturday just hours before a major Vatican conference of the world's bishops.

Mr Gabriele's arrest and trial have proved embarrassing for the Vatican, correspondents say.

If convicted, he faces up to four years in an Italian prison but Pope Benedict is expected to grant a pardon.

The court has been under pressure to close the case rapidly, the BBC's David Willey reports from Vatican City.

The Vatican butler was arrested in May, accused of passing papal correspondence to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book His Holiness: The Secret Papers Of Pope Benedict XVI was published that month.

'Thousand documents'

The last four witnesses called by the defence, the Vatican police officers, told the court they had removed more than 1,000 incriminating documents - including originals initialled by the Pope himself - from the butler's home before his arrest.

"There are around 1,000 documents of interest including both photocopies and originals and some documents with the signature of the Holy Father," said Inspector Silvano Carli.

Police officer Stefano De Santis told the court: "There were also documents in code. There were many more documents than were published in the book.

"There were dozens and dozens of documents about the Holy Father, the Secretariat of State and the other Congregations, about the total privacy and family life of the Holy Father.

"There were documents that were considered top secret and to be destroyed."

Another officer who took part in the search, Luca Cintia, said: "Some of the documents were signed by the Holy Father and some were in code with 'Destroy' written on them."

The police said they had also found other documents on issues ranging from former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to Freemasonry, but these were not considered to be of interest to the inquiry.

When the police officers told the court they had received instructions to treat the accused and his family gently, Mr Gabriele smiled ironically, our correspondent notes.

On Tuesday, he told the court he had been maltreated by police after his arrest.

'Betrayal'

On Saturday, the hearing inside the small Vatican courtroom will begin with final arguments by the prosecution and the defence, after which Mr Gabriele will be asked to make a statement, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters.

The three judges will then retire to consider their verdict.

On Tuesday, Mr Gabriele insisted he was innocent of the charge of "aggravated theft".

"I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would," he added.

Mr Gabriele has complained of mistreatment after his arrest, saying the cell where he was kept for 53 days was so small he could not extend his arms, and the light was kept on permanently.

Since the trial began on Saturday, no TV cameras or recorders have been allowed inside the courtroom. Coverage of the trial is restricted to just eight journalists.

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