VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Paolo Gabriele, the papal butler held on suspicion of leaking documents alleging corruption in the Vatican, was driven by a desire to help the pope, his lawyer said on Saturday, adding that his ultimate aim may have been to clean up the Church.
The lawyer, Carlo Fusco, told a news conference that Gabriele had acted alone in the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal and was not part of any wider plot, saying he expected a Vatican magistrate to order a trial for him soon.
The 46-year-old butler’s arrest on May 23 caused an international furor after police found confidential documents in his apartment inside the Vatican, a dramatic twist that threw the global media spotlight on an institution battling to defend its reputation from allegations of graft.
“The motivations that prompted him to do certain things are all of an interior nature. There were no external motives,” Fusco said after assisting Gabriele in an interrogation that lasted seven hours.
Asked by a reporter if Gabriele’s motive could have been to “help the pope clean up the Church”, Fusco said: “That would be one way of interpreting it.”
Fusco said Gabriele, who is being investigated for aggravated theft and faces up to six years in jail if found guilty, was “moved by the desire to do something that could be an act of help, an act of love, towards the pope”.
“Obviously the way in which each person expresses (such desires) are subjective and are debatable,” Fusco added.
Gabriele has been held in a small “safe room” inside the Vatican police station for the past two months, but on Saturday a decision was taken to allow him to return to his flat under house arrest.
Some Italian newspapers allege corruption in the Vatican’s business dealings with Italian companies, involving the payment of inflated prices for work, while others highlight rivalries among cardinals and clashes over the management of the Vatican’s bank, known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR).
Fusco said his client showed signs of remorse.
“He has been able to reflect long and hard these days and came to the conclusion that the method (of helping the pope) could have been different. He certainly regrets the method that was used.”
Many commentators have said that Gabriele, who served the pope his meals and rode in the front seat of the popemobile at Pope Benedict’s general audiences, could not have acted alone and was just a scapegoat for others. But the lawyer denied this.
“We can say with absolute certainty that there was no network, there were no plots, either in the Vatican or outside the Vatican, that Paolo was part of,” Fusco said.
The butler’s other lawyer, Cristiana Arru, said Gabriele had not been motivated by personal gain. “He received no money or personal benefits”, she said.
Gabriele is widely expected to ask the pope, who is the sovereign of Vatican City, for a pardon. If is it not granted, he would serve his term in an Italian jail according to bilateral agreements between the Vatican and Italy.
“The Holy Father will make the decision he deems opportune,” Fusco said, referring to a possible request for a pardon.
Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said a Vatican magistrate would decide by the start of August whether to order Gabriele to stand trial. Any trial would not start before September.
Gabriele, who has dual Vatican and Italian citizenship, is still the only person formally accused in the “VatiLeaks” scandal.
A commission of three cardinals that led a separate investigation, and who questioned many people in the Vatican, delivered their report directly to the pope last week. Its contents remain confidential.
Editing by Andrew Osborn