* Butler gets 18-month sentence, prosecution wanted threeyears
* "I am not a thief," Gabriele says in final appeal to court
* Butler says acted out of "visceral" love for Church andpope
* Vatican spokesman evokes papal pardon(Recasts with verdict) By Philip Pullella and Naomi O'Leary
VATICAN CITY, Oct 6 (Reuters) - A Vatican court convictedPope Benedict's former butler of stealing sensitive documentsand sentenced him to 18 months in prison on Saturday, at the endof one of the most sensational trials in the recent history ofthe Holy See.
A Vatican spokesman said the pope, who reigns as a suprememonarch in the world's smallest city-state, would "most likely"pardon Paolo Gabriele, which would mean he would not have toserve his sentence.
The court delivered its verdict after two hours ofdeliberations and closing arguments by the prosecution and thedefence.
Gabriele had admitted being the source of leaks of highlysensitive papers, including letters to the pope that allegedcorruption in the Vatican's business dealings.
"What I feel most strongly inside myself is the convictionthat I acted exclusively out of love, I would say a viscerallove, for the Church of Christ and its visible representative,"he said in an impassive voice during a final appeal to thecourt.
"If I have to repeat it, I am not a thief," he added.
The prosecution had asked for a three-year sentence whilethe defence asked the court to reduce the charges fromaggravated theft to misappropriation and for him to be freed.
The head of the three-judge panel, wearing a black robe withgold tassels, read the verdict with the opening words: "In thename of Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, gloriously reigning, thecourt has invoked the Holy Trinity and has reached itssentence."
The judge said he had given Gabriele a lighter sentencebecause he had no previous criminal record. Gabriele's lawyerand the Vatican spokesman said the former butler would bereturned to house arrest in the Vatican for the time being.
The lawyer said she would decide after reading the court'sformal explanation of its verdict whether to file an appeal.
BREACH OF TRUST
The trial, which started last Saturday, threw open thewindow on a betrayal of trust and sensitive secrets in theVatican.
A former member of the small, select group known as "thepapal family", Gabriele was one of fewer than 10 people who hada key to an elevator leading directly to the pope's apartments.
In the course of the trial, intimate details emerged of theinner workings of an institution long renowned for its secrecy.
The documents Gabriele leaked constituted one of the biggestcrises of Pope Benedict's papacy when they emerged in amuckraking expose by an Italian journalist earlier this year.
The case has been an embarrassment for the Vatican, comingat a time when it was keen to rid itself from the taint left bya series of scandals involving sexual abuse of minors by clericsaround the world and mismanagement at its bank.
Gabriele told investigators before the trial began that heleaked the documents because he saw "evil and corruptioneverywhere in the Church" and that information was being hiddenfrom the pope.
Earlier this week Gabriele accused the Holy See's police ofmistreating him while in custody. Members of the force in turndepicted the butler as a man obsessed with the occult, Masoniclodges and secret services.
(Additional reporting by Hanna Rantala and Antonio Denti;Editing by Michael Roddy)
Keywords: POPE BUTLER/