VATICAN CITY – The pope's butler was convicted Saturday of stealing the pope's private documents and leaking them to a journalist, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre read the verdict aloud Saturday two hours after the three-judge panel began deliberating Paolo Gabriele's fate. He said the sentence was reduced to 18 months from three years because of a series of mitigating circumstances, including that Gabriele had no previous record.
In his final appeal to the court, Gabriele insisted "I don't feel like a thief" and said he leaked the pope's private correspondence to a journalist out of a "visceral love" for the church and the pope.
In the courtroom was Gabriele's father. It was the first time a family member has attended his weeklong trial.
Gabriele is accused of stealing the pope's private correspondence and passing it on to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book revealed the intrigue, petty infighting and allegations of corruption and homosexual liaisons that plague the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.
The book, "His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI's Secret Papers" has convulsed the Vatican for months and prompted an unprecedented response, with the pope naming a commission of cardinals to investigate the origin of the leaks alongside Vatican magistrates.
In her closing arguments, defense attorney Cristiana Arru insisted that only photocopies, not original documents, were taken from the Apostolic Palace, disputing testimony from the pope's secretary who said he saw original letters in the evidence seized from Gabriele's home.
She admitted Gabriele's gesture was "condemnable" but said it was a misappropriation of documents, not theft, and that as a result Gabriele should serve no time for the lesser crime.
It's not clear where Gabriele will serve his sentence or if he will be sent back to jail. He has been held on house arrest since July after spending his first two months in a Vatican detention room.
The Vatican has said he would serve any sentence in an Italian prison because it doesn't have any long-term prison facilities.
But a papal pardon is nevertheless widely expected.