Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday pardoned his former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing secret papal memos, but banished the once-loyal servant from the Vatican forever.
“This morning the Holy Father Benedict XVI visited Paolo Gabriele in prison in order to confirm his forgiveness and to inform him personally of his acceptance of Mr Gabriele’s request for pardon,” the Vatican said in a statement.
The pardon for Gabriele, who was convicted and sentenced in October by a Vatican court for leaking secret papal documents to the press, was a “paternal gesture” for a man “with whom the pope shared a relationship of daily familiarity for many years.”
However, the ex-butler “cannot resume his previous occupation or continue to live in Vatican City,” it added.
After a 15-minute meeting with Benedict, Gabriele returned home to his wife and three children, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said. He had spent a total of three-and-a-half months in detention.
“It is great news, the end of a sad affair,” Lombardi said.
He likened the meeting between the pontiff and his betrayer to a prison encounter in 1983 between pope John Paul II and the Turk Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier.
The tone was intimate, he said.
A former trusted aide who had passed hours of every day in the pontiff’s company, the 46-year-old Gabriele — one of the 594 citizens of the world’s smallest state — will now have to move out of his home within the Vatican’s walls.
“The Holy See, trusting in his sincere repentance, wishes to offer him the possibility of returning to a serene family life,” the Vatican said.
Gabriele, one of the few lay members of the “pontifical family,” leaked the sensitive memos to the press as part of a whistle-blowing campaign against what he called “evil and corruption” in the Vatican.
Many religious observers had thought it unlikely that the Vatican would expel Gabriele because of the risk that he would be free to reveal further secrets.
“It’s still not clear what the fate of the main protagonist of Vatileaks will be,” religious watcher Andrea Torinelli wrote in the Vatican Insider, a sister publication of the daily La Stampa.
“He could be destined for a role in a context linked to the Vatican,” he said, though “the Holy See will expect him to keep mum on the years spent in the papal apartments.”
Many hope that Gabriele’s freedom may allow him to reveal whether the leaks were orchestrated by higher powers.
The butler told Italian investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published the leaks, that there were “around 20” like-minded people in the Vatican — sparking rumors that disgruntled cardinals may have been behind the leaks.
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