From Hada Messia, CNN
ROME (CNN) — The trial began Saturday for Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler on an aggravated theft charge over the alleged leaking of hundreds of secret papers from the pope’s personal apartment to an Italian journalist.
The butler, Paolo Gabriele, could face a sentence of up to eight years in an Italian prison if convicted, although it is possible the pope could choose to pardon him.
Gabriele has not entered a guilty plea but has admitted leaking the papers to the Vatican prosecutor, according to Vatican statements.
Vatican computer technician Claudio Sciarpelletti, who worked in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, is also on trial, accused of complicity in the crime. If found guilty, he faces a shorter prison term of only a few months.
Three lay judges, led by Giuseppe Dalla Torre, are hearing the case in the Vatican City courthouse, located behind St. Peter’s Basilica.
Saturday’s hearing is expected to be largely procedural, although the judges may reveal more details of the evidence and witnesses to be heard in the closely watched case.
The names of several witnesses were left blank in a report previously issued by the investigative judge, with the exception of the pope’s personal secretary, Georg Gaenswein.
The Vatican has said Gabriele cooperated with investigators and admits leaking the papers, which consisted of faxes, letters and memos, including some from a high-ranking church official expressing concerns about corruption within the Vatican.
A prosecutor in the case said in a report last month that Gabriele acted out of a desire to combat “evil and corruption everywhere in the Church.”
“I was certain that a shock … would have been healthy to bring the church back onto the right track,” Gabriele is quoted as saying by the prosecutor, Nicola Piccardi.
The scandal, with its claims of corruption, has rocked the Catholic Church hierarchy and could even affect who becomes the next pope.
The Vatican City State penal code for proceedings involving its citizens is based on the Italian penal code of the second half of the 19th century. The presiding judge, Dalla Torre, will lead the debate and question the defendant directly.
The Vatican courthouse has handled mostly petty theft cases in the past. Prison terms handed down by the court are served in the Italian prison system, under an agreement between the Vatican City State and Italy.
Gabriele was arrested in May, following a top-level Vatican investigation into how the pope’s private documents appeared in the best-selling book “Sua Santita” (“His Holiness”), by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.
The Vatican called the publication of his book “criminal” when it was released in Italian.