POPE Benedict XVI's former butler was convicted of theft by a Vatican court yesterday after he admitted leaking confidential papal documents to an Italian journalist.
Paolo Gabriele, 46, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after the court reduced a three-year term citing extenuating circumstances.
Gabriele's trial and the leaks that prompted his arrest shed light on power struggles within the Holy See. Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who used documents provided by Gabriele in a bestseller published this year, detailed how loyalists to Pope Benedict were trying to check the growing influence of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's de facto prime minister.
Gabriele, in his testimony, said he acted out of love for the Pope who, he said, was easily manipulated.
The three-judge panel ruled after hearing testimony this week from Gabriele, Benedict's secretary Monsignor Georg Gaenswein and the security personnel who carried out the search of the butler's home. Monsignor Gaenswein spoke about his suspicions of Gabriele, and the gendarmes detailed the discovery of classified documents.
Gabriele said he was innocent of the charges, while admitting to betraying Benedict's confidence.
''My intention was to find a trusted person to vent to, given my feelings and the discomfort about the situation that had become unbearable all around in the Vatican,'' Gabriele told the court this week. He never accepted money or benefits in exchange for information, Gabriele said.
In his concluding statements yesterday he said he didn't feel like a thief, the Italian wire service ANSA reported. His lawyer Cristiana Arru said the sentence was good and balanced. She will read the panel's written decision before deciding whether to appeal, ANSA reported.
A papal pardon is likely, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters.
The search of Gabriele's house uncovered documents as well as a cheque made out to the Pope for €100,000 euros ($A130,000), a 16th-century book and a gold nugget, according to court documents published on the Vatican's website in August.