VATICAN CITY: A Vatican court Saturday sentenced the pope’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, to 18 months in prison for leaking confidential documents to a journalist in one of the most serious breaches of vaunted Vatican secrecy in modern history.
The court found Gabriele guilty of theft and remanded him to house arrest. A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Saturday that it was “very likely” that the pope would pardon Gabriele, who had tended to the pope’s personal needs for six years.
Gabriele, 46, remained impassive as the chief judge, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, pronounced the sentence “in the name of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, gloriously reigning,” from a wood-paneled room in the Vatican City tribunal, housed in a palazzo behind St. Peter’s Basilica.
The verdict capped one of the most embarrassing episodes in recent Vatican history after a tell-all book based on dozens of the documents leaked by Gabriele revealed accusations of financial misdeeds within the Vatican, as well as infighting and widespread tensions.
The court formally sentenced Gabriele to three years in prison and required him to pay court costs. But the sentence was reduced to 18 months after the court acknowledged several extenuating circumstances, including the butler’s public recognition that he had betrayed the pope’s trust. The court also took into account Gabriele’s belief, “albeit erroneously,” that his motivations for leaking the documents had been pure.
Before the verdict, Gabriele addressed the court and told the three judges: “I am not a thief.”
Speaking with little emotion in his voice, Gabriele said that “he felt the strong conviction deep inside to have acted exclusively for love, a visceral love, for the church” and the pope.
In depositions to Vatican court officials, Gabriele had said he acted in the interests of the pope, whom he believed was not adequately informed about the misdeeds that the former butler said were flourishing within the Vatican.
Gabriele told officials investigating the crime that he wanted to bring to light the corruption so it would be cleaned up.
For several months, beginning in November, Gabriele gave a number of documents to a journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published many of them in the book His Holiness: the Secret Papers of Pope Benedict XVI. The most embarrassing revelations pointed to alleged misdeeds within the Vatican’s administration and its chief financial institution.
Two weeks after the book was published in May, Gabriele was arrested when hundreds of photocopied documents were found in his apartment inside Vatican City, where he lives with his wife and their three children.