Vatican Leaks: Pope Pardons Jailed Butler

Pope Benedict XVI has granted a Christmas pardon to his former butler, who was convicted and jailed in the VatiLeaks scandal.

The Pope visited Paolo Gabriele in the Vatican police barracks to tell him personally of the pardon, the Vatican said.

Gabriele, a 46-year-old father of three, was subsequently freed and has returned to his family.

The Holy See said it "intends to offer him the possibility to serenely restart his life together with his family", but added the man would no longer live or work at the Vatican.

The Vatican spokesman described the Pontiff's meeting with his former butler as "intense" and "personal".

Gabriele was at the centre of one of the gravest Vatican security breaches in recent times.

The scandal bore all the hallmarks of a Dan Brown novel, exposing intrigue, power struggle and allegations of corruption inside the frescoed Vatican walls.

Gabriele was arrested on May 23 after Vatican police found heaps of papal documents in his Vatican City apartment.

On October 6 he was convicted by a Vatican tribunal of stealing the Pope's private papers and leaking sensitive documents that alleged corruption in the Holy See.

He had been serving his 18-month sentence in the Vatican police barracks.

Gabriele told investigators he had given the documents to a journalist because he thought that exposing the "evil and corruption" in the Vatican would put the Roman Catholic Church back on the right track.

The scandal turned into a major embarrassment for Benedict's pontificate and came to be known in the media as "VatiLeaks".

The Pope also pardoned a second Vatican employee, Claudio Sciarpelletti, who was convicted of aiding Gabriele.

The papal pardon had been expected.

In 1981, the late Pope John Paul II famously pardoned Turkish hitman Ali Agca, who tried to kill him in St Peter's Square. The Pope later met Agca in prison.