Pope ex-butler Paolo Gabriele jailed for theft

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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Pope Benedict's ex-butler Paolo Gabriele has been found guilty of stealing confidential papers from him and sentenced to 18 months in jail.

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

Ahead of the verdict, Gabriele said he acted out of love for the Church and did not see himself as a thief.

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

Gabriele's lawyer Cristiana Arru said she did not intend to appeal against the verdict, Reuters reported.

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

She was also quoted as saying Gabriele was "serene" about his fate and "ready to accept any consequences".

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 sent to jail 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.

Gabriele is "very likely" to be pardoned by Pope Benedict, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, though it is not clear when this might happen.

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

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says official Vatican media have almost totally ignored the trial since it began and morning radio bulletins have omitted to mention the story.

'High moral motives'

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.

On the last day of the trial, defence and prosecution lawyers gave their closing arguments, and Gabriele made a final appeal.

"The thing I feel most strongly is the conviction of having acted out of visceral love for the Church of Christ and of its leader on earth," he said.

"I do not feel I am a thief."

Ms Arru accused the Vatican police of irregularities and failures during their investigations.

She asked the court to reduce the charge to common theft or illegal possession, saying Gabriele had high moral motives although he had committed an illegal act.

Prosecutor Nicola Picardi had sought a three-year sentence, with an indefinite ban on Gabriele holding public office or positions of authority.

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.

Confession

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.

Start Quote

I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would”

End Quote Paolo Gabriele

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.

Its publication sparked the hunt for the source of the leaks inside the Vatican, leading to Gabriele's arrest.

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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