POPE Benedict XVI has granted his former butler a Christmas pardon for stealing the pontiff’s private papers and leaking them to a journalist, one of the gravest Vatican security breaches in recent times.
The Pope met for 15 minutes with Paolo Gabriele in the prison where the ex-butler was serving his sentence for the theft. Gabriele was subsequently freed and returned to his Vatican City apartment where he lived with his wife and three children.
The Vatican said he would not continue living or working in the Vatican, but that it “intends to offer him the possibility to serenely restart his life together with his family”.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, said the Pope’s meeting with Gabriele was “intense” and “personal,” noting that Gabriele and the Pope had worked together closely for six years. The pardon closes a painful and embarrassing chapter for the Vatican, capping a scandal that exposed power struggles, intrigue and allegations of corruption and homosexual liaisons at the highest levels of the Catholic Church.
Gabriele, a 46-year-old father of three, was arrested on 23 May after Vatican police found what they called an “enormous” stash of papal documents in his Vatican City apartment. He was convicted of aggravated theft by a Vatican tribunal on 6 October and has been serving his 18-month sentence in the Vatican police barracks.
He told Vatican investigators he gave the documents to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi because he thought the 85-year-old Pope was not being informed of the “evil and corruption” in the Vatican and thought that exposing it publicly would put the Church back on the right track.
The publication of the leaked documents, first on Italian television then in Nuzzi’s book His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI’s Secret Papers convulsed the Vatican all year.
The papal pardon had been widely expected before Christmas, and the jailhouse meeting Benedict used to personally deliver it recalled the occasion of Pope John Paul II visiting Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who shot him in 1981, while he served his sentence in an Italian prison.
Lombardi, said during the meeting Benedict “communicated to [Gabriele] in person that he had accepted his request for pardon, commuting his sentence”.
Lombardi said the Vatican hoped the Benedict’s pardon and Gabriele’s freedom would allow the Holy See to return to work “in an atmosphere of serenity”.
None of the leaked documents threatened the papacy. Most were of interest only to Italians, as they concerned relations between Italy and the Vatican and a few local scandals and personalities. Their main aim appeared to be to discredit Benedict’s trusted number two, the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Vatican officials have said the theft, though, shattered the confidentiality that typically governs correspondence with the Pope. Cardinals, bishops and everyday laymen write to him about spiritual and practical matters assuming that their words will be treated with confidentiality.