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Pope's butler to face trial over 'Vatileaks'

Pope Benedict XVI's former butler and an accomplice have been ordered to stand trial for stealing and leaking confidential papers. The scandal is the latest to afflict the Roman Catholic Church.

The former butler, 46-year-old Paolo Gabriele, is accused of "aggravated theft" in a case that has come to be known as "Vatileaks."

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

If found guilty, Gabriele could face up to six years in prison. The Vatican says the trial will not take place until October at the earliest.

He was arrested during an investigation into the leaking of private papal documents to the media. He was then detained for 53 days in a Vatican cell before being put under house arrest by the police in July.

Sensitive documents

The leaked documents included references to an alleged plot to kill the pope and details of controversial financial activities relating to the Vatican's bank, the Institute of Religious Works. Some alleged corruption in the Vatican's dealings with Italian companies, such as the payment of inflated prices for work.

Gabriele, who served the pope his meals and rode in the front seat of the pope mobile at the pontiff's general audiences, in July reportedly wrote to Pope Benedict asking for forgiveness.

If convicted, he is widely expected to ask the pope for a pardon that Vatican sources say is likely to be granted.

If it were not, Gabriele would serve his term in an Italian jail according to bilateral agreements between the Vatican - the world's smallest city-state - and Italy.

His arrest in May threw the global media spotlight on the Vatican's financial activities as the Church faces growing allegations of graft.

tj/mz (Reuters, AFP, dpa)