VATICAN CITY — The Vatican tribunal that convicted the pope's ex-butler of stealing private papal correspondence sharply condemned the theft Tuesday, saying it was a "reprehensible" violation of trust that damaged the pontiff, the Holy See and the entire Catholic Church.
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 previously had spoken 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 that Pope Benedict XVI wasn't being informed of the "evil and corruption" around him, and that he believed 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.
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.
Father Lombardi repeated that Benedict has the authority to pardon Gabriele.
On Oct. 6, Father 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 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, Father 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 specialist 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, Father Lombardi said.