VATICAN CITY — A Vatican judge on Monday ordered the pope's butler and a fellow lay employee to stand trial for the alleged pilfering of documents from Pope Benedict XVI's private apartment, in an embarrassing scandal that exposed power struggles and purported corruption at the Holy See's highest levels.
The indictment accused Paolo Gabriele, a 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 check for about $125,000 made out to Benedict and donated by a Spanish Catholic university from the papal quarters.
Gabriele's lawyer, Carlo Fusco, told The Associated Press that the check had "by chance" ended up in a pile of the pope's paperwork Gabriele had accumulated in his apartment. 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 married layman 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 the butler.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters that a three-judge panel would try the two defendants together. No date was set for the trial, which will be open to reporters, but Lombardi said it would start at the very earliest in late September, after the court returns from summer break.
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.
Lombardi said Monday that 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 Vatican investigators would pursue other culprits, but sidestepped a question on whether a special panel of cardinals Benedict set up to deal with the scandal had made any inroads into the wider question of moral wrongdoing among those higher up. The indictment quoted Gabriele as telling investigators that he was "motivated by my deep faith and by the desire that in the church light is shed on everything."