VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday 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 sensational, Hollywood-like scandal that exposed power struggles, intrigue and allegations of corruption and homosexual liaisons in the highest levels of the Catholic Church.
Gabriele, a 46-year-old father of three, was arrested May 23 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 Oct. 6 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 wasn't 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, a devastating betrayal of the pope from within his papal family that exposed the unseemly side of the Catholic Church's governance.