Vatican City: The pope`s butler was formally questioned on Tuesday in the investigation into the leaks of the pope`s papers, a scandal that represents one of the gravest security breaches in recent Vatican history.
Paolo Gabriele was arrested May 23 and has been held ever since in a secure room inside the Vatican gendarmerie building, a four-by-four metre room with bathroom, desk, bed and a crucifix on the wall. He is accused of aggravated theft, and if convicted could face from one 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 today 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 also 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 finance 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.
Taken together, the leaks have seemed aimed at discrediting Pope Benedict XVI`s No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, who has been criticized 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 cooperate with investigators, and today`s interrogation represented the first time he might have named names.
Papanti-Pelletier, the judge on the tribunal who is not involved in the case, said that while Gabriele was charged currently 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.