Pope Benedict XVI (L) talks with former butler Paolo Gabriele during a private audience at the Vatican. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano
Pope Benedict has made a surprise pre-Christmas visit to the
jail holding his former butler and pardoned him for stealing
and leaking documents that alleged corruption in the Vatican.
The pope and Paolo Gabriele spent about 15 minutes together
before Gabriele was freed and allowed to return to his wife
and children in their Vatican apartment, Vatican spokesman
Father Federico Lombardi said.
"What they said to each other will remain a secret between
them ... he knows he made a mistake," Gabriele's lawyer
Cristiana Arru, who was in the apartment when he returned
home, told Reuters.
Gabriele was convicted of aggravated theft on October 6 in a
case that shone unwelcome publicity on the Vatican. He had
been serving an 18-month sentence in a jail cell in the city
state's police headquarters.
Lombardi called the pope's action "a paternal gesture towards
a person with whom the pope shared his daily life for several
years ... this is a happy ending in this Christmas season to
this sad and painful episode."
Both Lombardi and Arru described the encounter as "intense"
because it was the first time the two had seen each other
since last May, when Gabriele was arrested after Vatican
police found many documents in his possession that had been
stolen from the pope's office.
The pope also pardoned a Vatican computer expert who had
received a suspended sentence in a separate trial.
In a saga that became known as "Vatileaks", Gabriele leaked
documents showing what appeared to be a power struggle at the
highest ranks of the Church, and internal conflict about how
transparent the Vatican's scandal-plagued bank should be with
outside financial authorities.
He told investigators he had acted because he saw "evil and
corruption everywhere in the Church" and that information was
being hidden from the pope.
The Vatican said Gabriele would no longer be able to work
there but would be helped to find a job and start a new life
outside its walls together with his family.
"When he came home, the kids jumped up and hung from his
neck. It was a very tough time for them. I don't think the
whole episode has sunk in for them yet," lawyer Arru said.
Gabriele, 46, said at his trial - one of the most sensational
in the recent history of the Holy See - that he did not
consider himself a thief and that he was motivated by
"visceral" love for the Church.
The butler, who served the pope his meals and helped him
dress, photocopied sensitive documents under the nose of his
immediate superiors in a small office adjacent to the papal
living quarters in the Apostolic Palace.
He then hid more than 1,000 copies and original documents,
including some the pope had marked "to be destroyed", among
many thousands of other papers and old newspaper clippings in
a huge armoire in the family apartment inside the Vatican
A former member of the small, select group known as "the
papal family", Gabriele was one of fewer than 10 people who
had a key to an elevator leading directly to the pope's
He said at the trial that from his perch as papal butler he
was able to see how easily a powerful man could be
manipulated by aides and kept in the dark about things he
should have known.
The leaked papers revealed inner workings of an institution
long renowned for its secrecy, and triggered one of the
biggest crises of Pope Benedict's papacy when they emerged in
a muckraking expose by an Italian journalist earlier this
The case was all the more embarrassing at a time when the
Church was trying to limit the fallout from a series of
scandals involving sexual abuse of minors by clerics around
the world, as well as from mismanagement at its bank.
However, many people believe the butler could not have acted
alone and was a fall-guy for others in the Vatican. Gabriele
said during the trial that while he may have been influenced
by others, he had no direct accomplices.
The Vatican said the pope had also decided to pardon a second
Vatican employee and friend of Gabriele's, Claudio
Sciarpelletti, who was convicted separately of giving police
conflicting testimony and given a two-month suspended
Sciarpelletti, a computer expert, will be able to keep his
job in the Vatican.