LONDON — Pope Benedict XVI granted a pardon Saturday to his former butler who was serving an 18-month sentence for the theft of secret Vatican documents that were leaked to the Italian media in a scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church.
A papal press office communique said that Benedict “visited Paolo Gabriele in prison in order to confirm his forgiveness and communicate in person his decision to grant Mr. Gabriele’s request for pardon.”
The statement added that Gabriele, 46, was released by the pope in “a paternal gesture” for someone “with whom the pope shared a relationship of daily familiarity for many years.”
Gabriele was discovered in May to be the source of the wave of private church documents nicknamed "Vatileaks." In a highly publicized case, he was quickly tried and sentenced by a Vatican court over the summer for stealing and handing to investigative Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi over a thousand documents and letters.
The papers revealed a wealth of embarrassing evidence including personal power struggles in the church hierarchy, suspicions of financial misconduct by financiers in the Vatican bank and letters and memos referring to past scandals inside the church.
The documents also touched on several past mysteries and crimes known to have occurred inside the 110-acre Vatican City, such as a scandal involving murder and suicide by a Swiss guard in 1998 and the alleged kidnapping and disappearance of the young daughter of a Vatican employee in 1983.
During his trial, Gabriele told the court he had acted out of his love for the Catholic Church and in the interests of Benedict by revealing “evil and corruption” within the Vatican.
The documents were first revealed in an Italian TV documentary in January and later in a book Nuzzi published in May, “His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI.”
Gabriele, who was held in custody at the Vatican, was pardoned together with Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer technician who received a two-month suspended sentence in November for helping him.
Gabriele returned to his Vatican City apartment where he lives with his wife and three children, the Associated Press reported, with the church saying it would help him finding housing and a job elsewhere.