The Vatican acknowledged on Monday that the worst crisis in Pope Benedict's papacy had hurt the faith of Roman Catholics in their Church, but denied any cardinal was a suspect in a deepening scandal over leaked documents. By Philip Pullella (
The scandal exploded last week when, within a few days, the head of the Vatican's own bank was abruptly dismissed, the pope's butler was arrested for leaking documents and a book was published alleging conspiracies among the cardinals or "princes of the Church".
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told a news conference: "This is naturally something that can hurt the Church, and put trust in it and the Holy See to the test."
But Lombardi strongly denied Italian newspaper reports, quoting insiders who had themselves leaked documents, that a cardinal was among those being investigated over the scandal, which has been dubbed "Vatileaks".
"I categorically deny that any cardinal, Italian or otherwise, is a suspect," Lombardi said, adding that the pope was being kept fully informed of the case.
"He is aware of a delicate situation that we are living through in the Roman Curia. He continues on his path of serenity, his position of faith and morals that is above the fray."
Lombardi played down the depth of the scandal, which has caused a frenzy in the Italian press, saying talk that it was linked to an internal power struggle was "exaggerated".
The scandal concerns documents passed to Italian journalists over the last few months that accuse Vatican insiders of cronyism and corruption in contracts with Italian companies.
It has been brewing for months, but since it burst into the open it has shaken the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church.
After an investigation inside the Holy See, Pope Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, 46, was formally charged on Saturday with stealing confidential papal documents. But leakers quoted by La Stampa, La Repubblica and other media said the leaking plot went much wider and higher.
BUTLER TO COOPERATE
One of Gabriele's two lawyers, Carlo Fusco, said his client, who is being held inside a Vatican police station, would cooperate fully with investigators who are trying to track down other suspects.
He said Gabriele, who attended mass on Monday morning and was visited by his wife, was "very serene and tranquil."
Italian newspapers, quoting other whistle blowers in the Vatican, said the arrested butler was merely a scapegoat doing the bidding of more powerful figures.
"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 leaker as saying.
The Secretariat of State is run by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the pope's powerful right-hand man, and the scandal appears to involve a power struggle between his allies and enemies, reminiscent of Renaissance conspiracies in the Vatican.
La Stampa daily quoted one of the alleged leakers as saying the goal was to help the pope root out corruption.
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.
Lombardi said the Vatican would not be hurried in its investigation by media pressure, "One can't say how long this will take...the questions will have to be dealt with in the time that is needed to have a clear idea of the situation."
He added: "When things like this happen, one has to confront them clearly, with much realism, not hide them and try to understand the dynamics of the events and the solutions to remedy them. There is a clear commitment on this from the pope and his aides.
"No one can deny that this is a situation of suffering, however," Lombardi said.
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 until Wednesday night the quiet man who served the pope's meals, helped him dress and held his umbrella on rainy days.
WEED OUT CORRUPTION
The Vatican's announcement of the arrest of the butler came a day after the president of the Vatican bank (IOR), Italian Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was fired by its board of external financial experts, who come from Germany, Spain, the United States and Italy.
Gotti Tedeschi's ousting was 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 and 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 between Bertone's allies and foes.
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 in a memo that put a number of cardinals in a bad light. Other documents alleged internal conflicts over the Vatican bank.
"I feel very sad for the pope. This whole thing is such a disservice to the Church," said Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus charity group and a member of the board of the Vatican bank who voted to fire Gotti Tedeschi.
Anderson told Reuters the bank president was sacked because of "a fundamental failure to perform his basic responsibilities". Gotti Tedeschi has said he was ousted because he wanted the bank to be more transparent, but Anderson rejected that assertion.
"Categorically, this action by the board had nothing to do with his promotion of transparency," Anderson said. "In fact, he was becoming an obstacle to greater transparency by his inability to work with senior management."
He said the Vatican was aiming to make the OECD's "white list" of states with an adequate level of financial transparency. Vatican sources have pointed to the bank head's very public ouster as an example of the drive to achieve this.
Gianlugi Nuzzi, the Italian journalist who has received many of the documents over recent months and last week published a new book called "His Holiness", on Monday 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. "There would be a petition to free them." DM
Photo: The Pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele (bottom L) arrives with Pope Benedict XVI (R) at St. Peter's Square in Vatican, in this file photo taken May 23, 2012. The butler who serves in the apartments of Pope Benedict XVI was arrested on Friday in connection with an investigation into leaks of confidential documents, a senior Vatican source said. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi