Pope's butler will face theft trial

The pope's butler and another lay worker are to stand trial over the theft of documents from the pontiff which were later leaked to show embarrassing splits in the church hierarchy.

The indictment accuses Paolo Gabriele, the butler arrested at the Vatican in May, of grand theft, a charge that could bring up to six years in jail, although the pope could pardon his once-trusted aide after any conviction.

Gabriele was also accused of taking a cheque for 100,000 euros (£79,000) made out to the pope and donated by a Spanish Catholic university. Gabriele's lawyer Carlo Fusco said it had ended up "by chance" in a pile of the pope's paperwork Gabriele had accumulated in his apartment. Mr Fusco said his client "had never taken money or any other economic advantage" in his role as butler.

While the Vatican had insisted throughout the investigation that Gabriele, a 45-year-old who lives with his family in Vatican City, was the only person under investigation, the indictment also orders trial for Claudio Sciarpelletti, a 48-year-old computer expert in the Secretariat of State office charged with aiding and abetting Gabriele.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said that a three-judge panel would try the two defendants together in the Vatican. No date was set for the trial.

The Holy See has been on a defensive footing since documents alleging corruption and exposing power struggles began appearing in the Italian media in January. In May, the book "Sua Santita" (His Holiness) - by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi - was published containing dozens of documents from the pope's desk, including letters written to him.

Rev. Lombardi Monday that the magistrates had not taken on the wider, more serious issue revealed by the leaked documents - alleged corruption within the top ranks of the church. He said that Vatican investigators would pursue other culprits, but sidestepped a question on whether a special panel of cardinals the pope set up to deal with the scandal had made any inroads into the wider question of moral wrongdoing among those higher up.

The trial request and indictment basically lay out a script for what could be Gabriele's line of defence when he goes before the tribunal later this year - a religiously inspired, misguided, would-be whistleblower.

Vatican prosecutor Nicola Picardi, in seeking trial, quoted Gabriele as telling his interrogators after his arrest that he thought that the role of whistle-blower in the church "belongs to the Holy Spirit, whom I felt in some way had entered into me."

One of the psychological experts who examined Gabriele during the probe concluded that he was unsuited for the job, which went from dawn to dusk and included serving the pope meals, helping him get dressed, attending morning Mass with him and other assignments. The indictment said the experts had concluded that Gabriele suffered from "a grave psychological unease characterised by restlessness, tension, anger and frustrations."