Profile: Pope's ex-butler Paolo Gabriele

By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Paolo Gabriele (bottom left) saw more of the Pope on a daily basis than most cardinals

Before his arrest in May this year, Paolo Gabriele was the Pope's closest private servant.

An impeccably dressed, black-suited Italian, he lived in the Pope's shadow and for seven years was always at hand to smooth the pontiff's path through his multiple official duties - in public and in private.

Each morning he helped Pope Benedict to dress and attended his early morning private mass. Usually, he served the Pope's meals and was sometimes invited to sit at the Pope's table.

Known to his intimates as Paoletto, Gabriele would sit in the front of the Popemobile, opening the door when the Pope stepped inside. He handed the pontiff his red cloak when the weather turned chilly.

Despite holding no ecclesiastical qualifications, he perhaps saw more of Pope Benedict in private every day than most of the cardinals and bishops working inside the Vatican.

Private community

The papal household, on the top floor of the imposing Apostolic Palace - the building next to Saint Peter's Basilica - is a small community that has little normal contact with the outside world.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The Pope's ex-butler was one of a restricted number of people with access to his personal apartments

Apart from the Pope himself, this community is made up of his two private secretaries - both ordained priests - Georg Gaenswein, from Germany, and Alfred Xuereb, from Malta, and four Italian consecrated nuns - Carmela, Loredana, Cristina and Rosella - who carry out domestic chores for Pope Benedict, cook for him, and clean the papal apartments.

Paolo Gabriele held the keys to one of the most carefully guarded residences in the world.

He took them over from another long-time Vatican servant, Angelo Gugel, butler and valet to the late Pope John Paul II.

Before and since his arrest, he has lived with his wife and three children in a "grace and favour" apartment just inside the walls of the Vatican.

This was where he hid the many documents that he admitted copying inside the office he shared with the Pope's two private secretaries.

Trials inside the Vatican are very rare. Most petty crimes committed within its walls - such as pickpockets discovered fleecing tourists inside Saint Peter's Basilica or inside the Vatican Museums, are dealt with summarily by Italian police.