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VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict’s former butler could serve time in a Vatican jail unless the 85-year old pontiff pardons him in the next few days.
The Tuesday (Oct. 23) announcement by the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, reverses previous Vatican statements that, if convicted, Paolo Gabriele would eventually serve his jail term in an Italian prison.
Lombardi also seemed to somewhat downplay widespread talk about a papal pardon, saying one is “possible,” but it’s not known when or if the pope would grant it.
A Vatican tribunal sentenced Gabriele to 18 months on Oct. 6 for stealing the pope’s private papers and leaking them to the press.
The conviction came after the Vatican had been rocked for months by revelations of alleged corruption and infighting in the so-called Vatileaks affair.
Gabriele’s attorney decided not to appeal the conviction, but Vatican prosecutors still have “a few more days” to appeal the ruling, according to Lombardi. If they decide to leave the verdict unchallenged, the sentence will come into force and Gabriele will have to leave the Vatican home where he now lives under house arrest with his wife and three children.
Lombardi said Gabriele would be serving his sentence in the small detention facility inside the headquarters of the Vatican police, where Gabriele alleged he had suffered abuse during the two months he spent there after his arrest on May 23.
Lombardi said an investigation of Gabriele’s claims of mistreatment is ongoing.
Claudio Sciarpelletti, a Vatican technology expert who is accused of aiding and abetting Gabriele, will go on trial on Nov. 5, Lombardi said.
In the full text of the Oct. 6 conviction sentence, which was released on Tuesday, the Vatican court sharply criticized Gabriele’s actions as “harmful” to the workings of the Vatican, to the pope and to the wider Catholic Church. It also said they “violated” the pontiff’s right to “secrecy” and “good reputation.”
But the judges partially accepted the former’s butler defense that he had acted out of love for the church and the pope. They stressed that Gabriele’s motives were “erroneous” but nevertheless credible on account of his “simplistic” intellectual capacity.
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