By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO – Published: October 6, 2012
VATICAN CITY — A Vatican court on 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.
L’Osservatore Romano, via Associated Press
The pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, center, with his lawyer, Cristiana Arru, right, left the Vatican tribunal after the verdict on Saturday.
Follow @nytimesworld for international breaking news and headlines.
The court found Mr. 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 Mr. Gabriele, who had tended to the pope’s personal needs for six years.
Mr. 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 Mr. Gabriele revealed accusations of financial misdeeds within the Vatican, as well as infighting and widespread tensions.
The court formally sentenced Mr. 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 Mr. Gabriele’s belief, “albeit erroneously” that his motivations for leaking the documents had been pure.
Before the verdict, Mr. Gabriele addressed the court and told the three judges: “I am not a thief.”
Speaking with little emotion in his voice, Mr. 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, Mr. 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. He 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, Mr. 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, Mr. 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. Mr. Gabriele spent nearly two months in a holding cell at the Vatican before being released to house arrest.
The trial lasted less than a week and focused the attention of the world’s media onto the world’s smallest — and most secretive — city-state.
“It’s a good sentence, a fair sentence,” said Mr. Gabriele’s lawyer, Cristiana Arru. Mr. Gabriele has three days to appeal the sentence.
A Vatican computer expert has also been indicted and is accused of aiding and abetting Mr. Gabriele, and his trial is expected to begin soon.
During a briefing to reporters Saturday afternoon, Father Lombardi said the investigation into the leaks and possible other charges against Mr. Gabriele and others had not formally closed, though the investigations had not turned up anything to suggest “collaboration or complicity” by anyone else.
In making his decision on a possible pardon, the pope would probably consider the results of a commission of cardinals that he had entrusted to carry out a separate, confidential investigation.
But Father Lombardi could not say “when or how” a pardon might be granted. He would also not speculate on whether Mr. Gabriele would remain an employee of the Vatican. “That is another chapter,” he said.