Vatican rules Pope's butler must stand trial

Paolo Gabriele to face trial for "aggravated theft", and alleged accomplice accused of complicity in leaking documents.

    Pope Benedict XVI's former butler and another Vatican employee must stand trial for stealing and leaking confidential papers in the latest scandal to afflict the Catholic Church, a magistrate has ruled.

    Paolo Gabriele, who was arrested in May on suspicion of stealing secret documents from the pope's office and leaking them to journalists, was accused of "aggravated theft" on Monday.

    Judge Piero Bonnet also charged Claudio Sciarpelletti, an analyst and programmer in the Vatican state secretariat, with complicity.

    Sciarpelletti's name had not been disclosed before.

    Gabriele risks up to six years in prison. The Vatican has said the trial will not take place until October at the earliest.

    The 46-year-old butler was arrested during an investigation into the leak of private papal documents to the media. He was held for 53 days in a Vatican cell before being put under house arrest in July to await the judge's decision.

    The Vatican said after his arrest it had found documents and copying equipment in Gabriele's home, revelations which shocked the close-knit Holy See community and saddened the aged pontiff.

    Al Jazeera's Claudio Lavanga reporting from Rome said that apart from a stash of documents, "the Vatican also found a number of presents that was meant to be for the Pope: A cheque for a 100, 000 Euros, a gold nugget and also a rare sixteenth century book."

    Lavanga said that this would make Gabriele's position even worse.

    'Clean record'

    Legal experts said they doubted Gabriele would get the maximum six year jail sentence.

    "Gabriele has a clean record, so the final punishment should be lower than the maximum of six years," said Maurizio Bellacosa, professor of criminal law at the LUISS University in Rome.

    Vatican and legal experts expect that the Pope will eventually grant a pardon to his butler, a man who worked beside him from early morning to after dinner preparing his clothing and serving him his meals.

    Gabriele began working at the Vatican in 1998 serving also Pope John Paul II.

    "According to the rules of the Vatican state, in any phase of the criminal proceeding the Pope has the supreme power to grant the grazia, the favour, a sort of judicial forgiveness," Bellacosa said.

    His lawyers say that Gabriele has co-operated fully with the investigation and deny that he was part of any conspiracy.

    He has told prosecutors he acted on his own.

    Leak scandal

    The leaks scandal broke in January when Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi revealed letters from a former top Vatican administrator who begged the pope not to transfer him for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of euros in higher contract prices.

    The prelate was transferred and is now the Vatican's US ambassador.

    The scandal widened over the following months with documents leaked to Italian journalists that laid bare power struggles inside the Vatican over its efforts to show greater financial transparency and comply with international norms to fight money laundering.

    The scandal reached a peak in the spring when Nuzzi published an entire book based on a trove of new documents, including personal correspondence to and from the Pope and his private secretary, much of which painted the Vatican secretary of state in a negative light.

    Many Vatican watchers have seen in the leaks a plot to undermine the authority of Benedict's No 2, the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who has been blamed for an array of gaffes during Benedict's seven-year papacy.

    But in one of his last acts before going on vacation on July 3, Benedict sent a letter to Bertone, lamenting the "unjust criticism" that had been leveled against him and reaffirming his confidence in him.

    Benedict appointed a commission to investigate the leaks that was headed by one of the Vatican's top legal heavyweights: Cardinal Julian Herranz, an Opus Dei prelate who led the Vatican's legal office before retiring.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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