By David Kerr
Paolo Gabriele, the Pope’s former butler, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after being found guilty of stealing confidential Vatican papers — but it is likely that the 46-year-old Italian will receive a pardon from Pope Benedict XVI.
Eyewitnesses said that Gabriele sat impassively as Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre handed down the sentence. The three year prison sentence was reduced to 18 months due to “mitigating circumstances,” including Gabriele’s lack of previous convictions, years of service and admission of wrongdoing.
Following the verdict, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. said the possibility of a Papal pardon for Gabriele was now “very concrete and very likely.”
In his final address to the court Gabriele told the panel of three judges “I do not feel like I’m a thief” adding that he “acted only out of visceral love for the Church of Christ and for its visible head on earth.” He said that he had acted alone and without accomplices.
During the week-long trial the judges had heard how Gabriele stole copies of confidential documents from the Papal apartments. These included personal correspondence between Pope Benedict and various Cardinals along with encrypted communications from Papal ambassadors across the world. Some of the papers were marked in German “to be destroyed” and were written in the Pope’s handwriting.
The butler’s Vatican apartment was searched by police officers on May 23 following the publication of several confidential letters in Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book “Your Holiness.” In total officers removed 82 crates of material from the Gabriele family home including approximately 1,000 incriminating documents.
Paolo Gabriele worked in the Papal Household under both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He was one of very few individuals who had daily access to the Pope. Within the close-knit family atmosphere of the Papal Apartment, Gabriele was affectionately nicknamed “Paoletto” or “little Paul.” He is married and has three children.
His defense lawyer, Cristiana Arru, described today’s verdict as a “good sentence” but did not rule out an appeal against the decision.