The Catholic Church is the oldest institution in the western world, and with more than one billion members worldwide, it is the largest Christian church. Its history spans almost 2,000 years and is rooted in the Church's Canon of Scripture and Tradition. At the head of the church is the Pope, who Catholics believe is the successor to Saint Peter whom Christ appointed as the first head of His church. The Pope, according to the religion's doctrine, can speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals. The Catholic Church practises closed communion and only baptised members of the church are permitted to receive the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
Pope's papers found in butler's apartment, Vatican police say at trial
Officers tell Vatican court they entered flat in May to find more than 1,000 relevant documents
Vatican police testifying at the trial of the pope's former butler have told a court they found coded Vatican correspondence in his house alongside documents on which the pope wrote "to be destroyed" in German.
The four officers were giving evidence on the third day of Paolo Gabriele's trial for stealing Pope Benedict's private letters, which detailed allegations of corruption at the Vatican, and leaking them to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who turned them into a best selling book.
Police decided to search Gabriele's Vatican apartment after noting that letters published in the book could only have been seen by someone close to the pontiff.
Officers told the Vatican court they entered the house on the afternoon of May 23 to find "tens of thousands"of documents packed into large cupboards in Gabriele's living room and study.
Among the documents the police found during the search, which lasted until 11pm, were private documents about the pope's inner circle, letters in code issued by the Vatican's secretariate of state - as is custom when it writes to nuncios around the world - and letters signed by the pope. When one officer said documents were found with the phrase "to be destroyed" written in German - the language of Bavaria-born Benedict - Gabriele smiled.
Police from the tiny city state's police force also recalled finding documents about masking mobile phone calls and a large number of computer USBs.
Police inspector Stefano Carli said there were more than 1,000 documents relevant to the investigation, and these were hidden among other documents, which a second officer said totalled tens of thousands.
Those documents, including newspaper clippings and internet downloads, concerned famous Italian criminal conspiracies, some which involved the Vatican, including the mysterious death of banker Roberto Calvi and the shadowy P2 masonic lodge, which counted senior Italian politicians in its ranks.
Other documents referred to mysticism, the Vatican bank, yoga, Silvio Berlusconi, Christianity, Buddhism and other religions.
Officers addressing the court took the chance to deny accusations made by Gabriele on Tuesday that he was held in a tiny cell with the light kept on 24 hours a day.
"Gabriele thanked us more than once for the way he and his family were treated,"said Luca Cintia.
The case has placed the Vatican police in the spotlight since one of the chapters in Nuzzi's book alleges corruption in its ranks.
Gabriele faces four years in prison for aggravated theft, but may benefit from a papal pardon.