By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict's butler, suspected of leaking documents that allege corruption in the Vatican, was denied a requested transfer to house arrest and ordered on Thursday to remain in a small police 'safe room', where he prays daily.
The Vatican said a prosecutor had decided to keep Paolo Gabriele, 46, in preventive custody beyond the usual 50 days that Vatican law says a defendant can be held before being ordered to stand trial. The period can be doubled in some cases.
But spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters this did not mean that Gabriele would spend another 50 days in the room at the Vatican police station, which measures 3.5 by 4 meters (11.5 by 13 feet), and has a single small window, a small table and a separate bathroom.
He said the prosecutor, Piero Antonio Bonnet, was expected to end a formal investigation in a few weeks and decide whether to clear the butler or order him to stand trial for stealing and leaking the documents to Italian media.
Some of the papers allege corruption in the Vatican's business dealings with Italian companies, involving the payment of inflated prices for work. Others highlight rivalries among cardinals and clashes over the management of the Vatican's bank, known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR).
Lombardi denied an Italian newspaper report that Gabriele was suffering from obsessive behavior and had been brainwashed by a fundamentalist sect.
"Paolo is serene and finds comfort in prayer and has no psychological or health problems," Lombardi quoted Gabriele's lawyer Paolo Fusco as telling him.
The room contains a crucifix and Gabriele - who served Pope Benedict his meals, helped him dress and rode in the front seat of the popemobile - is allowed to attend mass regularly.
NO TRIAL BEFORE SEPTEMBER
Lombardi said Bonnet would continue questioning Gabriele for about another 10 days and later reach his conclusion. Any trial would not be held before September and would be public.
Gabriele, who has dual Vatican and Italian citizenship, is still the only person formally accused in the "VatiLeaks" scandal. Many of the documents were found in his apartment in the Vatican.
Vatican insiders believe the butler could not have acted alone and may be a pawn in a much wider power struggle between cardinals.
For now, Gabriele is formally charged with aggravated theft, which carries a jail sentence of up to six years. But other offences, such as revealing state secrets, could be added to the list of charges before the investigation ends.
A commission of three cardinals leading a separate investigation, and who had questioned many people in the Vatican, would deliver their report directly to the pope in the next few days, Lombardi said.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)