December 23, 2012, Sunday — An Act of Grace for Christmas

Pope Benedict has taken a “pre-Christmas decision” to grant his former butler, who stole papers from his desk and was for this sentenced to 18 months in prison, a full pardon. Paolo Gabriele will now be able to spend Christmas with his wife and three small children.

Pope Benedict pardons former butler Paolo Gabriele

Pope Benedict XVI yesterday, just three days before Christmas, pardoned his former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was serving an 18-month jail sentence for stealing confidential Vatican documents and handing them over to a journalist for publication, resulting in the “Vatileaks” scandal.

The Pope yesterday morning visited Gabriele personally in his Vatican cell to inform him of the decision, the Vatican said in a statement. (Photo: This photo from the Osservatore Romano, is the only photo of the meeting the Vatican will be releasing.) The Vatican’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the two had a “very intense” conversation for about 15 minutes, privately and alone.

On October 6, a Vatican tribunal, after a brief trial, found Gabriele guilty of removing and/or photocopying dozens of the Pope’s private documents and leaking them to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published them in May.

Gabriele said in his testimony that he acted out of love for the Church. He said he had taken the documents in order to “jar” the Vatican in some way, in order to force top officials — and eventually the Pope himself — to face more directly a number of cases where special agendas seemed to be placing private or partial interests ahead of the interests of the Universal Church. In this sense, Gabriele saw himself as a “whistleblower,” not as the agent of any group, in or out of the Church, seeking to harm the Church. The Vatican tribunal judges said in their sentence that they believed Gabriele’s description of his motivation, and for this reason reduced his sentence from 3 years to a year and a half.

Now Gabriele is free.

“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 statement said.

In November the court convicted a computer expert, Claudio Sciarpelletti, of helping Gabriele leak the papal documents. Sciarpelletti, who pleaded innocent, was found guilty and given a suspended sentence of two months. He is already back at work in his old job, and a full pardon is also expected soon for him, Father Lombardi said.

What has not been made clear is whether the “Vatileaks” case is now completely closed, or not.

A few days ago, Pope Benedict, unexpectedly, received in audience three cardinals — the Spaniard Julian Herranz, the Slovak Josef Tomko and the Italian Salvatore De Giorgi — who comprise the special “cardinals’ commission” the Pope himself set up to investigate the “Vatileaks” case, alongside the investigation of the Vatican court and the Vatican police department.

It is said in Rome that the three cardinals continued to gather testimony and evidence about the case even after Gabriele’s trial and sentencing in October. This suggests that perhaps there is still an ongoing investigation. But what this investigation (if it is continuing) consists of, why it might be continuing, and what it might lead to (if anything), is not clear.

The Text of the Vatican Communique

Here is the text of the Vatican communique from yesterday, first in Italian, then in English translation:


Questa mattina il Santo Padre Benedetto XVI ha fatto visita in carcere al Sig. Paolo Gabriele, per confermargli il proprio perdono e per comunicargli di persona di avere accolto la sua domanda di grazia, condonando la pena a lui inflitta. Si è trattato di un gesto paterno verso una persona con cui il Papa ha condiviso per alcuni anni una quotidiana familiarità.

Successivamente, il Sig. Gabriele è stato scarcerato ed è rientrato a casa. Benché non possa riprendere il precedente lavoro e continuare a risiedere in Vaticano, la Santa Sede, confidando nella sincerità del ravvedimento manifestato, intende offrirgli la possibilità di riprendere con serenità la vita insieme alla sua famiglia.

Bollettino Ufficiale Santa Sede

“This morning the Holy Father Benedict XVI visited Paolo Gabriele in prison in order to confirm his forgiveness and communicate in person his decision to grant Mr Gabriele’s request for pardon, thereby remitting the sentence passed against the latter. This constitutes a paternal gesture towards a person with whom the Pope shared a relationship of daily familiarity for many years.

“Mr Gabriele was subsequently released from prison and has returned home. Since he cannot resume his previous occupation or continue to live in Vatican City, the Holy See, trusting in his sincere repentance, wishes to offer him the possibility of returning to a serene family life.”

Official Holy See Bulletin


The butler’s future

“Although he (Paolo Gabriele) cannot continue his prior work or continue to live inside Vatican City, the Holy See, trusting in the sincerity of his apparent repentance, intends to offer him the possibility of taking up again with serenity his life together with his family,” Father Lombardi said.

Lombardi indicated that the Vatican will find Gabriele a different job outside of Vatican City, and a different residence, also outside of the city.

And so ends the “Vatileaks” case — with a gesture of forgiveness from the Pope, and the return of a father to his family, just in time for Christmas.

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