The worst crisis in Pope Benedict’s pontificate deepened when Italian media said at least one cardinal was among those suspected of divulging sensitive documents as part of a power struggle at the top of the Church.
The scandal exploded last week when, within a few days, the Pope’s butler was arrested for leaking documents, the head of the Vatican’s own bank was dismissed, and a book was published alleging conspiracies among the cardinals.
Newspapers, quoting insiders who had themselves leaked documents, said the arrested butler was merely a scapegoat doing the bidding of more powerful figures in the scandal, which has been dubbed “Vatileaks”.
But Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi strongly denied the claims. “I categorically deny that any cardinal, Italian or otherwise, is a suspect,” he said, adding the Pope was being kept fully informed of the case.
The documents, passed to Italian journalists, accuse Vatican insiders of cronyism and corruption in contracts with Italian companies.
La Stampa newspaper quoted one of the alleged leakers as saying the goal was to help the Pope root out corruption.
On Saturday, Paolo Gabriele, 46, the Pope’s personal butler, was formally charged with stealing confidential papal documents.
But leakers quoted by La Stampa, La Repubblica and other media said the plot went much wider.
“There are leakers among the cardinals but the secretariat of state could not say that, so they arrested the servant, Paolo, who was only delivering letters on behalf of others,” La Repubblica quoted one alleged whistleblower as saying.
The secretariat of state is run by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone — the Pope’s right-hand man — and the scandal appears to involve a power struggle between his allies and enemies.
It has been brewing for months, but since it burst into the open it has shaken the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church.
Aides say the pontiff is “saddened and pained” by the events. His critics say a lack of strong leadership has opened the door to infighting among his powerful aides — and potentially to the corruption alleged in the leaked documents.
Many Vatican insiders believe the butler, who had access to the Pope’s private apartment, could not have acted alone. He is being held in a “safe room” in the Vatican police station and has been charged with aggravated theft.
Now known in Vatican statements as “the defendant”, he was the quiet man who served the Pope’s meals, helped him dress and held his umbrella on rainy days.
“He did not steal the documents. His role was to deliver documents,” La Stampa quoted the unidentified alleged leaker it interviewed as saying.
The Vatican’s announcement of the arrest of the butler came a day after the president of the Vatican bank, Italian Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was fired by its board of external financial experts, who come from Germany, Spain, the US and Italy.
Gotti Tedeschi’s ouster is a blow to Bertone who, as secretary of state, was instrumental in bringing him in from Spain’s Banco Santander to run the Vatican bank in 2009.
While news of the butler’s arrest has filled pages of newspapers in Italy and beyond, the Vatican’s own newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has ignored the story. Some say this may be because the paper itself has been an instrument in the power struggle.
Documents leaked over the last few months included letters by an archbishop who was transferred to Washington by Bertone after blowing the whistle on what he saw as a web of corruption.
Gianlugi Nuzzi who last week published a book called His Holiness — criticised the Vatican for rounding up leakers.
“Surely, arresting someone and rounding up people and treating them like delinquents to stop them from passing on true information to newspapers would cause an uproar in other countries,” he said.
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