22/12/2012 15:59 GMT | Updated 22/12/2012 16:12 GMT

Pope Give Christmas Pardon To 'VatiLeaks' Butler Paolo Gabriele, Convicted Of Fraud

In the spirit of the season of goodwill Pope Benedict XVI has granted a Christmas pardon to his former butler and close companion Paolo Gabriele, who had been convicted of leaking secret Vatican documents in October, the so-called 'VatiLeaks' scandal.

The Pope paid a 15-minute visit to his former butler, to personally communicated the pardon.

In a Vatican statement, church officials said Gabriele had been allowed to leave the police barracks where he was imprisoned on aggravated theft charges, having been given a sentence of 18 months.

gabriele butler

In this photo released by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, former pope's butler Paolo Gabriele, right, is received in a private audience by Pope Benedict XVI, at the Vatican

"This morning the Holy Father Benedict XVI visited Paolo Gabriele in prison in order to confirm his forgiveness and to inform him personally of his acceptance of Mr Gabriele's request for pardon."

But Gabriele has been exiled from the Holy See, according to the Daily Beast, and can no longer work or live in the Vatican.

Gabriele, who was a personal assistant to the Pope and had duties including dressing the head of the Catholic Church, started as a humble cleaner in the Vatican and rose to become the Pope's personal butler.

Investigators found documents in his quarters including reports on the Vatican's tax affairs, and a document which suggested that Pope Benedict's new ambassador in Washington was himself a whistleblower.

Gabriele has previously claimed he was acting out of love for the church, but said in the interview that people were afraid to speak out from inside the city walls: "Ours is a state where you can get in, kill and leave undisturbed, and after 24 hours no one can say what happened."