Pope Benedict 'likely to pardon' ex-butler Paolo Gabriele

The BBC's Alan Johnston said it was probable that the Pope would pardon Mr Gabriele, seen here on the right

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The Vatican has indicated that the Pope is likely to pardon his former butler, who has been sentenced to 18 months in jail for stealing confidential papers.

After the sentence was passed, papal spokesman Federico Lombardi said Paolo Gabriele was "very likely" to be pardoned by Pope Benedict XVI.

Prosecutors had called for a three-year sentence but it was reduced because of "mitigating circumstances".

Gabriele said he acted out of love for the Church.

The former butler was accused of stealing and copying the Pope's documents and leaking them to an Italian journalist.

He had denied the theft charge but admitted photocopying the papers and "betraying the Holy Father's trust".

Gabriele's lawyer Cristiana Arru said she did not intend to appeal against the verdict passed by the Vatican City on Saturday.

Her client would serve his sentence under house arrest in his Vatican apartment while awaiting a possible papal pardon, she said.

Analysis

"In the name of His Holiness Benedict XVI gloriously reigning, having invoked the most Holy Trinity, the Tribunal has pronounced the following sentence…"

With these lofty words the Vatican City criminal court sentenced the Pope's former butler on a charge of having stolen confidential papers from the pontiff's desk over a long period.

It's unlikely however that the Vatican employee - one of fewer than 1,000 Romans to enjoy the privileges of Vatican citizenship and its perks (a grace and favour home, duty free petrol and groceries, total job security) - will serve out any term either inside the Vatican or in an Italian jail.

The Vatican has no long-term detention facilities and under the terms of a 1929 treaty normally hands over to Italian justice people convicted of a crime on Vatican territory.

Paolo Gabriele has only been suspended from his Vatican duties, not sacked and it is likely that arrangements will be made to ensure that he does not lose his pension rights and his home as a result of his desire to save his Church from what he termed "corruption and evil".

And Pope Benedict is reliably said to be pondering a judicial pardon.

Confession

The verdict was delivered after two hours of deliberation by the judges.

Presiding judge Guiseppe Dalla Torre handed down a sentence of three years, then cut it to 18 months citing Gabriele's lack of a criminal record, his apology to the Pope and past services rendered to the Church.

The former butler will also have to pay court costs out of his own pocket.

Gabriele has now been returned to house arrest inside his Vatican apartment, where he has already been confined for several months.

The verdict brings to an end a week-long trial that has revealed an embarrassing breach of security at the highest levels of the Vatican.

The trial also took an unexpected turn when Gabriele complained of the conditions in which he was held by the Vatican security force after his arrest on 23 May.

The judges ordered an investigation after Gabriele said that for more than two weeks he had been kept in a cell so small that he could not extend his arms, and that the light had been left on day and night.

During testimony, the three presiding judges heard how Gabriele used the photocopier in his shared office next to the Pope's library to copy thousands of documents, taking advantage of his unrivalled access to the pontiff.

He would later pass some on to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.

Mr Nuzzi released a best-selling book this year, entitled His Holiness, largely based on the confidential papers and detailing corruption, scandals and infighting.

Police also told the court how they found thousands of documents at Gabriele's home, including some original papers bearing the Pope's handwriting. Some had the instruction "destroy" written by the Pope in German on them.

Although Gabriele entered a not-guilty plea, prosecutors say he confessed to taking documents during an interrogation in June, a confession he later stood by in court.

He told prosecutors he hoped to reveal alleged corruption at the Vatican, and believed that the Pope was being manipulated.

"I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would," he told the court earlier this week.

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