Oct. 6, 2012— -- Pope Benedict XVI's butler Paolo Gabriele was convicted this morning of stealing the pope's private papers and leaking them to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published them in a best-selling book.
It took the three judges presiding over the case in Vatican City about two hours of deliberations to reach the guilty verdict today, the fourth day of hearings.
Gabriele was sentenced to 18 months in an Italian prison, which was less than the expected sentence of four years.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters after the reading that the tribunal had fully accepted the "extenuating circumstances" and had reduced the sentence by a half.
The "extenuating circumstances" considered were that Gabriele had no previous criminal record, he had a good work record, he was convinced at the time -- although wrongly, according to the spokesman -- that he was doing what was right and that he now has admitted he acted incorrectly.
Gabriele, 46, worked in Pope Benedict's private apartments as a butler, serving the pope at table but also held other office duties.
"I declare myself innocent concerning the charge of aggravated theft," Gabriele told the court earlier this week. "I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would."
While he admitted he took thousands of documents from the pope's private apartments and leaked them to the media, he believed he was not guilty of theft because he was doing it for the good of the church -- "to bring the church back on the right track," and to show the "evil and corruption" of the church. During the trial Gabriele said he acted alone and was not influenced by anyone.
Just before the judges retired to deliberate today, the president of the court asked Gabriele whether he considered himself guilty.
"What I feel strongly in me is the conviction that I acted because of my exclusive and visceral love for the Church of Christ and for its visible leader," Gabriele said. "If I have to repeat myself, I say I do not consider myself a thief."
Gabriele will continue to remain on house arrest until the tribunal rules as to how his sentence will be carried out and his defense decides whether to appeal the decision.
Lombardi told the dozens of journalists gathered in the press office after the sentence was read that the pope will receive all the documents regarding the trial and will decide what to do next.
Most Vatican reporters have speculated that a papal pardon is imminent. Lombardi said that a papal pardon for Gabriele "is very concrete and real" but couldn't give a time frame as to when this could happen.
No date has been set for the trial of the IT Vatican specialist, Claudio Sciapelletti, who was also allegedly involved in the leaking of documents with Gabriele.
Lombardi also said the Vatican tribunal had shown its "full and total independence" during this trial and that it was carried out "correctly and rapidly." He added that he thought it very important that the trial had established that the butler had "no collaboration or complicity."
Among the eight people who testified in the fast-paced trial, which started last Saturday, were the pope's private secretary, Georg Gaenswein, and four of the Vatican police guard who searched Gabriele's home on May 23, the day he was arrested.
Police took away 82 boxes of documents including originals, and copies, of sensitive papal documents, a gold nugget, a valuable rare book and a check made out to the pope.
Benedict appointed a commission of three cardinals to investigate the leaks of his personal documents and internal church correspondence in March 2012, when some material had already started appearing in the media.
The non-judicial parallel investigation was to establish whether there was a network of people working in the Vatican involved in the leak of documents. The cardinals reportedly spoke to dozens of people who work in the Vatican and completed and handed the pope their report this summer, but so far no news has emerged as to what it contains.