* Butler gets 18-month sentence but remains in Vatican housearrest
* Convicted of stealing sensitive documents * "I am not a thief," Gabriele tells court in final appeal
* Butler says acted out of "visceral" love for Church andpope
* Vatican spokesman evokes papal pardon
(Adds ex-butler spared jail, further detail, colour)
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 detention 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.
Until such time, he will serve his sentence under housearrest in his Vatican apartment and not go to an Italian jail asis foreseen by bilateral agreements due to the Vatican's lack ofany such facility, his lawyer Cristiana Arru told Reuters.
She said the house arrest provision had been approved by theVatican's promoter of justice, or prosecutor, after the verdict.
Gabriele, wearing a grey suit, remained impassive as thecourt delivered its verdict after two hours of closed-doordeliberations that followed closing arguments by the prosecutionand defence.
Gabriele had admitted being the source of leaks of highlysensitive papers, including letters to the pope that allegedcorruption in the Vatican's business dealings and defended hisactions in a final appeal before the court retired.
"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 a flat voice that betrayed no emotion.
"If I have to repeat it, I am not a thief," he added dryly.
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, having invoked the Holy Trinity, has reached thefollowing sentence."
The court also ordered Gabriele to pay the cost of the trialout of his own pocket but a Vatican spokesman was unable toquantify it.
BETRAYAL OF TRUST
The judge said he had given Gabriele a lighter sentence thansought by the prosecution because he had no previous criminalrecord and because he had "acknowledged that he betrayed thetrust of the Holy Father".
The court was told how Gabriele, who served the pope hismeals and helped him dress, photocopied sensitive documentsunder the nose of his immediate superiors in a small officeadjacent to the papal living quarters in the Apostolic Palace.
He then hid more than 1,000 copies and original documents,including some the pope had marked "to be destroyed," among manythousands of other papers and old newspaper clippings in a hugearmoire in the family apartment inside the Vatican walls.
The prosecution tried to portray Gabriele as a simple-mindedman with "illusions of grandeur" who was easily influenced byothers but said there was no proof that he had accomplices.
Arru told Reuters in an interview she did not plan to appealbecause she felt the sentence was "a just one".
"He is a serene man. He placed himself before justice and isready to accept any of the consequences," she said aftervisiting the Gabriele family in their apartment in the Vatican.
"He put his life in the hands of divine providence first andhuman justice second. He is a man who has no fear," she said,adding that the Vatican prosecutor had agreed that Gabrielewould be permitted to take walks in the Vatican gardens underescort and receive relatives.
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.
He said during the trial that from his perch as papal butlerhe was able to see how easily a powerful man could bemanipulated by aides and kept in the dark about things he shouldhave known.
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.
(Editing by Jon Boyle and Jon Hemming)
Keywords: POPE BUTLER/