Just a few days before Christmas, Pope Francis has granted a "conditional pardon" to Msgr. Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda, sentenced in August to 18 months in jail for stealing and passing on documents to two Italian journalists.

In a brief statement released this evening, the Vatican said: “Considering that the Rev. Vallejo Balda has already served more than half of the sentence, the Holy Father Francis has given him the benefit of conditional release.”

It added: “It is a measure of clemency which allows him to regain freedom. The penalty is not settled, but he has the benefit of parole.”

The statement continued: “As of this evening the priest leaves the prison and all ties of employment with the Holy See ceases; he falls within the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Astorga (Spain), his home diocese.”

Since his arrest in October 2015, Msgr. Vallejo has been held in custody in a Vatican jail, though later moved to a Vatican property. The Spanish priest, who some expected to be granted a pardon during the Jubilee of Mercy, recently sent Pope Francis a letter requesting forgiveness.