A Vatican court has sentenced Paolo Gabriele, the former butler of Pope Benedict XVI, to one and a half years in prison for stealing sensitive documents and leaking them to a journalist.

The prosecution had demanded a three-year sentence for the Pope's butler. Judges deliberated for two hours before announcing the sentence.

During the trial, Gabriele admitted to photocopying thousands of documents, taking advantage of his unrestricted access to the pontiff and "betraying the trust of the Holy Father". However, he denied the charges of aggravated theft.

"I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would," said Gabriele earlier in the court.

The stolen documents allegedly point to corruption and power struggles within the church hierarchy.

Gabriele handed over the documents to the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published them in a book entitled His Holiness - The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI, which was released in November, 2011.

The bestselling book dealt with corruption, scandals and infighting at the highest levels of Vatican.

Some of the stolen documents were handwritten and marked "destroy" in German by the pontiff.

Gabriele told the prosecutors that his intention was to expose corruption in the Vatican.