- Police found more than 1,000 important documents in Paolo Gabriele's possession
- Among them were original documents signed by Pope Benedict XVI
- Many newspaper clippings and printouts touched on religious and spiritual topics
- Gabriele says he is innocent of aggravated theft charge but abused the pope's trust
Vatican police who searched the apartments of the pope's former butler, Paolo Gabriele, as they investigated a suspected leak told a court Wednesday how they found more than 1,000 important documents among a stash of hundreds of thousands.
Among them were original papers signed by Pope Benedict XVI, some of them stamped with an order for destruction, according to a briefing from the small pool of journalists allowed to attend the trial in a Vatican courthouse.
The former butler declared himself innocent Tuesday of a charge of aggravated theft in connection with leaked documents -- but said he had abused the pope's trust.
Testifying Wednesday, Officer Silvano Carli said that among the huge quantity of documents found in Gabriele's possession, "more than 1,000, both original and photocopies, were of interest."
Police also found many newspaper clippings and printouts from Internet searches, the court heard. Much of the material had a religious or spiritual theme, touching on Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism and yoga. Other articles concerned Freemasonry.
The four officers said that it had taken them almost eight hours to search through the papers accumulated by Gabriele and that they had found "important" documents mixed in with irrelevant material as if it "had been hidden."
As well as the documents, a gold nugget belonging to the pope and a check made out to the pontiff were found in a shoebox.
The officers said they had searched the apartment mainly for documents and did not give "much weight" to the discovery of the gold nugget and signed check because they "knew that it was Gabriele's job to handle the gifts the pope received during his trips."
They also seized a couple of computers, an iPad, a hard drive and USB drives.
In total, 82 boxes of evidence were collected from Gabriele's apartments in Vatican City and Castel Gondolfo, a small town near Rome.
Gabriele has previously admitted taking hundreds of secret papers from the pope's personal apartment and passing them to an Italian journalist.
The evidence heard Wednesday is expected to be the last before the trial wraps up Saturday, when the prosecutor and defense lawyer are due to give their closing statements and rebuttals.
Gabriele also has the right to speak again before the three lay judges retire to consider their verdict, which could come Saturday.
He asserted his innocence during his own testimony Tuesday, but added: "I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust that the Holy Father gave me."
Gabriele insists that he made no personal gain from collecting the documents and that he had no accomplices. He said he wanted to expose the "disconcerting atmosphere" within the Vatican.
Corruption claims resulting from the publication of a book based on the leaked materials rocked the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and could even affect who becomes the next pope.
If convicted of aggravated theft, Gabriele could face up to eight years in an Italian prison, although it is possible the pontiff could pardon him.
Computer technician Claudio Sciarpelletti, who worked in the Vatican's secretariat of state, is accused of complicity in the crime. The court will try him separately, once the former butler's trial is finished. Sciarpelletti would face a shorter prison term of only a few months if found guilty.
Prison terms handed down by the court are served in the Italian prison system, under an agreement between the Vatican city-state and Italy.
Gabriele was arrested in May, following a top-level Vatican investigation into how the pope's private documents appeared in the best-selling book "Sua Santita" ("His Holiness"), by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.
The Vatican called the publication of his book "criminal" when it was released in Italian.