Pope Benedict XVI has today granted a Christmas pardon to Paolo Gabriele, his former valet who has been serving an eighteen month jail sentence for leaking confidential papal documents.

A Vatican communiqué, released this morning by the Secretariat of State, reads:

"This morning the Holy Father Benedict XVI visited Paolo Gabriele in prison in order to confirm his forgiveness and communicate in person his decision to grant Mr Gabriele's request for pardon, thereby remitting the sentence passed against the latter. This constitutes a paternal gesture towards a person with whom the Pope shared a relationship of daily familiarity for many years.

"Mr Gabriele was subsequently released from prison and has returned home. Since he cannot resume his previous occupation or continue to live in Vatican City, the Holy See, trusting in his sincere repentance, wishes to offer him the possibility of returning to a serene family life".

In October, Gabriele was found guilty of stealing and copying the Pope's documents and leaking them to an Italian journalist. He said he acted out of love for the Church.

In other news today, the Holy Father appointed an American as the new Promoter of Justice, or chief prosecutor, at Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to oversee clerical sex abuse cases in the Church.

Fr. Robert W. Oliver, a canonical expert for the archdiocese of Boston, replaces Bishop Charles Scicluna who was appointed earlier this year as Auxiliary Bishop of Malta.

Earlier this month, Benedict XVI named Bishop Scicluna as a member of the CDF, enabling him to continue his work in helping deal with abuse cases.

The Maltese bishop was instrumental in ensuring that a comprehensive law was put in place to prosecute any clergy who would molest a child.

Today’s appointment will be seen as confirming that the Pope remains fully committed to taking a hard line on abuse.