VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican tribunal that convicted the pope's ex-butler of stealing private papal correspondence sharply condemned the theft on Tuesday as causing "reprehensible" damage to the pontiff, the Holy See and the entire Catholic Church, and said investigations are continuing.
The three-judge tribunal issued its written explanation of how it reached its Oct. 6 verdict against Paolo Gabriele, who was convicted of aggravated theft and sentenced to 18 months in prison, currently being served under house arrest.
The Vatican spokesman, who had spoken previously of the "concrete" likelihood that Gabriele would be pardoned by the pope, backed off that assertion Tuesday after the written verdict was released, saying only it that a pardon was "possible."
Gabriele confessed to photocopying papal documents and giving them to an Italian journalist, saying Pope Benedict XVI wasn't being informed of the "evil and corruption" around him and that he believed that exposing the problems publicly would put the church back on the right track.
The revelations of petty bureaucratic infighting, intrigue and allegations of corruption and homosexual liaisons marked the biggest Vatican security breach in modern times.
Noting what they called Gabriele's "simplistic" intellectual capacity, the judges acknowledged that he had thought he was doing the right thing by leaking the documents. But they said Gabriele's crime was a "reprehensible" violation of trust that damaged the pope himself and the rights of the Holy See, the Vatican City state and the entire Catholic Church.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, noted that the investigation into Gabriele remains open and that prosecutors could charge him with other crimes.
The judges said Gabriele betrayed the good name of all the people involved in the case and also the secrecy that is owed to the pope in his role as a sovereign — a hint at the direction Vatican prosecutors might go if they pursue further charges.
Lombardi repeated that Benedict has the authority to pardon Gabriele. On Oct. 6 Lombardi had said a papal pardon was "concrete, likely" — though on Tuesday he would only say it was "a possibility" and that it wasn't known if or when a pardon might be granted. He said his choice of words Tuesday was intentional.
Prosecutors have a few more days to decide whether or not to appeal the sentence, as they can do in the Vatican. Gabriele's attorney has decided not to appeal.
Once the deadline passes, Gabriele will begin serving his sentence in a Vatican detention facility, Lombardi said. Previously the Vatican had said he would serve it in an Italian prison, given that the Vatican doesn't have a long-term detention facility. Keeping him at the Vatican, though, would keep Gabriele under the watchful eyes of the Vatican police and away from a general Italian prison population, where he might talk.
Italian author Gianluigi Nuzzi's book, "His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI's Secret Papers" 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.
A co-defendant, Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer expert in the Vatican secretariat of state, was accused of aiding and abetting Gabriele's crime. Through his lawyer he has said he is innocent. His trial is due to start Nov. 5, Lombardi said.
In their ruling, the judges said there was no proof that Gabriele had any accomplices. Nevertheless, they noted that investigations are continuing "into the existence of other possible responsibilities in the leaks of reserved documents."
They confirmed the conviction of aggravated theft, rejecting the defense claim that Gabriele was merely guilty of "misappropriation" and detailing the way he violated the trust that had been granted him due to his position.
"Gabriele was able to commit the crime because of his relationship of service to the Holy Father, which is necessarily based on trust that allowed the pope to leave in his care documents that he illegally approrpriated," the judges wrote.
They said that while Gabriele himself may not have profited financially from stealing the documents, he obtained an "intellectual and moral" profit by doing so — a legal requirement to finding him guilty of theft.
Despite the violation, the judges said they could exclude that Gabriele was in general a criminal and, based on the length of his sentence, rejected the prosecutors' request that he be barred from work in any Vatican public office.
Gabriele, a 46-year-old father of three, is a Vatican citizen and resident of the Vatican city state. Lombardi said he didn't know if he was continuing to draw a salary or whether he would continue to be granted Vatican citizenship.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield