Father of Pope's imprisoned butler defends his 'honest' son

Italian television station receives protest letter as Paolo Gabriele's detention is extended

The father of the man languishing in a Vatican jail cell in connection with a raft of leaks that have damaged the reputation of the Pope and the Holy See has broken his silence to protest his son's innocence.

Vatican police seized Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict's butler, on 23 May, after finding stolen documents in his home in the Vatican. But following the Vatican's announcement last Thursday that it was extending the detention of Mr Gabriele past the usual 50-day limit while it gathered more evidence, his father Andrea, has hit out.

In a letter to Italian television station Tgcom 24's website, he insisted on his son's "great generosity and moral integrity," and his love for the Church and Pope Benedict. He said his son "is an honest person and will wait as long as it takes until everything is clarified".

"Paolo is paying the price first hand for a reality that's difficult to understand until the motive of what has happened is made public," he added.

The Vatican says nearly 30 people have been questioned in the case so far. But only Gabriele remains officially under investigation for allegedly passing the documents to the press. Sensitive reports on the Vatican's tax affairs and one document that suggested Pope Benedict's new ambassador in Washington was "exiled" in the US because he had blown the whistle on financial corruption are among the documents that have found their way on to the newspaper front pages this year.

A Catholic church spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said on Thursday that investigators needed to gather further testimony, after which point "formal interrogation of Gabriele" would commence. "All of this should happen within 10 or so days from now," he said.

The 46-year-old papal butler has been held in a room that measures 3.5 by 4 metres (11.5ft by 13ft) located inside the Vatican gendarmes' barracks. He is allowed regular visits by his family and lawyers, and attends mass weekly.

In addition to the criminal investigation that resulted in Paolo Gabriele's arrest, Pope Benedict appointed three cardinals to investigate the Vatican leaks more widely. They are due to report back to the Pope later this week.

The Italian press has taken the line that the damaging leaks have been designed to undermine the Vatican No 2, Cardinal Tarciso Bertone, the Pope's right-hand man.

He has come under criticism for his handling of the Vatican's foreign relations, and his inability to disperse the constant whiff of financial scandal coming from St Peter's Square.

However, some Vatican watchers accuse the Italian media, which is traditionally deferential to the Pope, of ignoring the evidence that animosity against the Pontiff himself is also behind the political poison seeping out from the Holy City.

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