Pope Benedict XVI's 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.
Paolo Gabriele has previously admitted taking hundreds of secret papers from the pope's personal apartment and passing them to an Italian journalist.
Gabriele asserted his innocence Tuesday when he was asked by his lawyer about the theft charge, according to a pool of selected journalists allowed into the courtroom. The Vatican penal system does not require a formal plea.
But, he said: "I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust that the Holy Father gave me."
The former butler added that he felt he was "the closest layman to the pope."
Corruption claims resulting from the publication of a book based on the leaked materials rocked the Catholic Church hierarchy and could even affect who becomes the next pope.
Testifying Tuesday, Gabriele told the presiding judge, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, that he had received no money in exchange for the papers, according to the journalist pool.
The accused said he did not believe he was the only person to give "news" to the press over the years, but also said that he had "no accomplices."
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.
If convicted of aggravated theft, Gabriele could face up to eight years in an Italian prison, although it is possible the pontiff could choose to pardon him. Sciarpelletti would face a shorter prison term of only a few months if found guilty.
Questioned by Dalla Torre about how and why he had collected the documents, Gabriele said he had started photocopying them in 2010.
He said his "intention was to find a person he could fully trust to whom to vent .... about the disconcerting atmosphere in the Vatican, felt not only by me. This feeling of bewilderment was widely felt in the Vatican."
Gabriele said he had made the photocopies during regular working hours and in front of other people who worked in the same office.
He told the court that he used his "instincts" in choosing what to photocopy.
He said he had received no money or any other benefit from the person to whom he gave the documents, adding that this "was the essential condition of our agreement."
Gabriele also said that "the book was certainly not something he wanted."
A prosecutor in the case said in a report last month that Gabriele had acted out of a desire to combat "evil and corruption everywhere in the Church."
"I was certain that a shock ... would have been healthy to bring the church back onto the right track," Gabriele is quoted as saying by the prosecutor, Nicola Piccardi.
Asked Tuesday about a gold nugget belonging to the pope that was found by police who searched his apartment, Gabriele told the court he hadn't known it was there.
The officers who carried out the search said the nugget was 3-4 centimeters (just over an inch) long and had been discovered in a shoebox, along with a signed check made out to the pontiff.