Pope Benedict has visited his jailed former butler and pardoned him for stealing and leaking sensitive Vatican documents.
Following the 15-minute meeting, Paolo Gabriele was released.
He had served nearly three months of an 18-month sentence. Convinced of widespread corruption, he had leaked papers revealing an apparent top level power struggle within the Catholic Church.
“They got to say all that they haven’t been able to say in recent months. Remember that these are two people who worked together side by side, day after day over a long time and who care for each other,” said Cristiana Arru, the former butler’s lawyer.
A second Vatican employee, Claudio Sciarpelletti, who was convicted separately and given a suspended sentence has also been pardoned.
The leaked papers triggered one of the Vatican’s biggest crises.
Gabriele said he acted out of love for the Church.
The case is still the focus of worldwide attention.
“Officially there isn’t complete closure but with these gestures you can clearly see a decision to turn the page,” said Mexican journalist Andres Beltramo Alvarez.
The Vatican called the Pope’s action a “paternal gesture”. But from another visitor, there was a sense that perhaps the papal pardon may do little more than paper over the cracks.
“Probably it was done with Christmas in mind, simply for that reason, for appearances rather than substance, because in the end everything within the walls of the Vatican is all shrouded in mystery,” she said.