Pope Benedict has pardoned his former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was convicted in October of leaking sensitive documents that alleged corruption in the Holy See.

The Vatican said the Pope visited Mr Gabriele in the Vatican's jail this morning to tell him personally of the pardon.

Mr Gabriele was then released and has already returned to his family.

He was convicted of aggravated theft on 6 October and had been serving an 18-month sentence in a Vatican jail cell.

Mr Gabriele was arrested in May after Vatican police found many documents that had been stolen from the Pope's office.

He gave them to the media in what became known as "Vatileaks".

The case became a major embarrassment for the Vatican.

The Vatican said the Pope had also pardoned a second Vatican employee, Claudio Sciarpelletti, who was convicted of aiding and abetting Mr Gabriele.