The Pope's butler was formally questioned today in the investigation into the leaks of the pontiff's papers, a scandal that represents one of the gravest security breaches in recent Vatican history.
Paolo Gabriele was arrested on May 23 and has been held ever since in a secure room inside the Vatican police building, a 13ft by 13ft room with bathroom, desk, bed and a crucifix on the wall.
He is accused of aggravated theft, and if convicted could face up to six years in prison.
Paolo Papanti-Pelletier, a judge on the Vatican tribunal, told reporters that Gabriele had been questioned by the investigating judge this morning in the presence of his two lawyers, the first such formal interrogation that could lead to an indictment or the dropping of charges.
The leaks scandal has convulsed the Vatican for months and resulted in an unprecedented investigation into who was responsible. Gabriele was arrested as part of the criminal probe, but a commission of cardinals is investigating the origins of the scandal, and the Vatican secretariat of state is trying to solve the whodunit as well.
Vatican documents leaked to the press in recent months have alleged corruption in Vatican finances as well as internal bickering over the Holy See's efforts to show more transparency in its financial operations.
The scandal took on even greater weight with the publication earlier this month of His Holiness, a book that reproduced confidential letters and memos to and from Benedict and his personal secretary.
The leaks have seemed aimed at discrediting Benedict XVI's number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, who has been criticised for shortcomings in running the Vatican.
The book's author, Gianluigi Nuzzi, has said his sources numbered more than 10, and there are questions about whether Gabriele acted alone. He has promised to co-operate with investigators, and today's interrogation represented the first time he might have named names.
Judge Papanti-Pelletier said that while Gabriele is so far charged only with aggravated theft, prosecutors could add on other charges in the Vatican's penal code, such as being part of a criminal association, receiving stolen goods or revealing state secrets.
Those charges carry a maximum of one to five years.
Gabriele can be held without being indicted for 50 days, with an extension of an additional 50 days if the investigation proves complicated, he said.
The Vatican's legal system is based on variations of Italy's penal and civil codes dating back to the 1800s - with a few modifications. Like Italy, there is the preliminary trial level, an appeals court and a high court, the proceedings of which are open to the public. Unlike Italy, if a cardinal were to be put on trial, he would only be judged by the Vatican's high court, which is presided over by three cardinals.
As princes of the church, cardinals can only be judged by fellow cardinals and the Pope himself, Judge Papanti-Pelletier said. As such, they skip over the primary and appeals court, which are not presided over by cardinals.
As in most countries, the head of state - in this case Benedict - can intervene to pardon someone found guilty. Technically the Pope can intervene even before the trial begins, but Judge Papanti-Pelletier said the norm would be for a papal pardon to come after a possible conviction.
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