“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,” the Vatican said in a statement.
Gabriele’s pardon was a “paternal gesture” for a man “with whom the pope shared a relationship of daily familiarity for many years.”
However, the ex-butler “cannot resume his previous occupation or continue to live in Vatican City,” it added.
After a 15-minute meeting with Benedict, Gabriele returned home to his wife and three children, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said. He had spent a total of three and a half months in detention.
A former trusted aide who passed hours of every day in the pontiff’s company, Gabriele will now have to move out of his home within the tiny city state’s walls.
“The Holy See, trusting in his sincere repentance, wishes to offer him the possibility of returning to a serene family life,” the Vatican said.
Gabriele was found guilty in October of leaking sensitive memos to the press as part of a whistle-blowing campaign against what he said was “evil and corruption” in the Vatican.
Documents secretly copied and leaked in a case that has been dubbed “Vatileaks” included allegations by a former governor of the city state of massive fraud within its walls.
During the trial, Vatican police said they had found more than 1,000 secret documents, some photocopies but others originals, in Gabriele’s home, stolen from the papal palace.
These included letters from cardinals and politicians and papers the pontiff himself had marked “To Be Destroyed”.
Gabriele had said he wanted to “help” the pope who, he claimed, had been kept in ignorance of scandals inside the Vatican. The documents were handed to an Italian journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published them in a book.
While the disgraced butler was initially given a three-year jail term, the presiding judge reduced the sentence on the grounds of his past service to the Catholic Church and his apology to the pope for betraying him.