Leaks author defends pope's butler, seeks clemency

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By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The author of the book of Vatican secrets that earned the pope's former butler an 18-month sentence for stealing private papal correspondence has set out to explain his source's motives and appeal for clemency.

Several European newspapers published an op-ed piece by Gianluigi Nuzzi on Monday in which the Italian journalist defended the actions of Paolo Gabriele and sought to put them in a context he said hadn't been fully explained during Gabriele's trial. Nuzzi provided an advance copy to The Associated Press.

A Vatican tribunal on Saturday convicted Gabriele of aggravated theft for stealing the pope's private correspondence and passing it onto Nuzzi in the gravest Vatican security breach in recent times. Gabriele was sentenced to an 18-month term, which he is serving under house arrest in his Vatican City apartment awaiting an expected papal pardon.

Gabriele confessed to photocopying some of the pope's private letters and giving them to Nuzzi, saying he wanted to shed light on the "evil and corruption" he saw around him in the Vatican that he believed was being kept from the pope.

Nuzzi said he wanted to further explain Gabriele's motives, which he said he ascertained over the course of several encounters that formed the basis of the book "His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI's Secret Papers," which was published in May.

Gabriele, he said, was at the receiving end of disgruntled Vatican cardinals, bishops and managers who came to him "day after day" with their secrets and concerns "hoping he would bring them to the pope."

The 85-year-old Benedict, Nuzzi wrote, had called for greater transparency in the church and yet was himself the victim of apparent efforts to keep him in the dark.

"Surely enjoying a privileged point of view — for six years he was one of the people closest to the Holy Father in the pontifical apartment — Gabriele strongly doubted that Benedict XVI was always aware or received truthful information," Nuzzi wrote.

"He spoke to me about this profound perplexity, his discomfort as evidenced by a filial love for the pope, a veneration for his simplicity, recounting stories of a man in the middle of the wolves."

Many of the issues Gabriele brought to light haven't yet been explained, "but certainly they explain the frustration of a man who, when confronting these intrigues, perceived the fragility of his pastor in a battle between good and evil," Nuzzi wrote.

Gabriele didn't elaborate much on the stand during the weeklong trial, saying only at one point that when he would sit down to lunch with the pope, he would realize that Benedict wasn't being kept informed of certain issues based on the questions he was asking.

The three-judge Vatican tribunal reduced Gabriele's three-year sentence in half, in part because he admitted he had betrayed the pope and thought "albeit erroneously" that he was doing the right thing.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, has said a papal pardon is "likely" although there's no knowing when it might come.

Nuzzi appealed for a pardon, noting that Gabriele's leaks didn't reveal state or military secrets but merely shed light on events that were damaging the church.

Nuzzi was neither charged in the case nor called to testify. The Vatican didn't investigate him for receiving stolen goods because the handoff of documents occurred on Italian soil, out of the Vatican's jurisdiction.

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