Pope’s butler Paolo Gabriele: whistleblower or traitor?

Pope’s butler Paolo Gabriele: whistleblower or traitor?

Paolo Gabriele, a reserved family man and devout Catholic, worked in Pope Benedict's private apartments in the Vatican's Apostolic palace, serving the pontiff meals and helping him dress. By Naomi O'Leary.

Yet while tending to the man Catholics believe is Christ’s vicar on earth, the clean-cut, black-haired butler became disillusioned with his Church, according to an indictment issued on Monday in which the Vatican ordered him to stand trial.

Arrested in an investigation over the leak of documents alleging corruption in the Vatican’s business dealings, Gabriele admitted that for some time he had been meeting with a journalist and slipping him sensitive papers, including letters to the pope.

He told the inquiry he never received payment for the documents, but felt he was acting for the good of the Church and as an agent of the Holy Spirit.

“I saw evil and corruption everywhere in the Church,” Gabriele said in his testimony, explaining how he felt the pope was not sufficiently informed of such matters.

“I was sure that a shock, perhaps by using the media, could be a healthy thing to bring the Church back on the right track.”


By day, Gabriele was a member of the Vatican’s most inner circle, the ‘Papal family’, possessing a key held by fewer than 10 people to an elevator leading from a small Vatican courtyard directly into the pontiff’s apartments.

But by night he was a different man, obsessed with helping root out what he saw as corruption in the Church by leaking the documents to a muckraking journalist at meetings near the Vatican.

To fathom the apparent gulf between Gabriele’s acts and his appearance as a reserved and obedient servant of the pope, the Vatican summoned psychologists to determine if he could be held responsible for his actions.

The results were conflicting. One report cited in the indictment concluded that Gabriele showed no signs of major psychological disorder or of being dangerous.

But another concluded the opposite: that while he could be held accountable for his actions, he was socially dangerous, easily influenced and could “commit acts that could endanger himself or others”.

The latter described Gabriele as subject to ideas of “grandiosity”, as attention-seeking, and as a simple man with a “fragile personality with paranoid tendencies covering profound personal insecurity”.

Gabriele told investigators he was in a state of confusion and disorder in the months leading to his arrest.

The butler seems to have been thrown into a crisis of conscience by insights into the inner workings of the Vatican that he encountered in his work.

He turned to more than one person to share his anguish. He confided in a man he called his “Spiritual Father”, referred to only as “B” in the indictment, and passed copies of incriminating papers to him as well as to the journalist.

“B” told investigators he destroyed the documents because he knew they had been obtained illegally.

Several people interviewed by investigators described Gabriele as a pious person and a good father, a discreet man held in high esteem by his acquaintances.

The 46-year old, who rode in the front seat of the popemobile, lived in a comfortable apartment in the Vatican with his wife and three children.

The man, who started out as a humble cleaner in the Vatican and rose to become the Pope’s personal butler, now faces up to six years in prison.

Kept in a tiny ‘safe room’ in a Vatican police station for two months during the investigation, Gabriele has been under house arrest in his Vatican apartment since July.

It is there that he will await the start of a trial that could prove to be the most spectacular in the Vatican in decades. DM

Photo by Reuters


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.