Since the end of January this year, the State of the Vatican City has been rocked by a series of leaks to Italian media organisations and journalists. Once famed for its Omerta-like code of secrecy, the leaks have demonstrated that all is not well within the walls of the Vatican, or indeed in the wider world of the Catholic Church.
Known as “Vatileaks”, the scandal started when an Italian television program broadcast private correspondence from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former deputy governor of Vatican City, to Pope Benedict XVI and his Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
The letters concerned allegations of corruption and cronyism against Cardinal Bertone and others inside the Roman Curia, the official name of the Vatican administration.
In his role as deputy governor, Archbishop Vigano discovered the Curia were wasting millions of Euros through overpayment of various goods and services – always to the same companies. In a letter dated April 4th 2011, the Archbishop wrote:
“evident situations of corruption: Projects always assigned to the same companies at costs that are double what’s charged outside the Vatican.” (1)
Despite his best efforts at reforming the administration, Archbishop Vigano was removed from his post by Cardinal Bertone and re-assigned to Washington DC, where he served as the Vatican’s ambassador to the US.
Cardinal Bertone is the subject of many other leaks, with one alleging he conspired with the editor of “L’Osservatore Romano”, the Vatican daily newspaper, in an underhanded dirty tricks campaign against a rival.
Book Release Sparks Controversy
The furor surrounding the leaks intensified in May, when well-known Italian investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi released his latest book: “His Holiness – The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI”. The book contained yet more letters critical of Cardinal Bertone, but also memos and faxes that truly served to highlight the major divisions and political infighting inside the walls of the smallest independent nation state in the world.
Nuzzi claims there is more than one person giving him information, but some of the information he revealed has likely led to the downfall of one of his sources.
Along with the explosive information highlighted above, the book also contained many references to Pope Benedict’s daily tasks and routines – even describing what he has for breakfast and his personal account number at the Vatican bank. (2)(3).
Barely one week after the book hit the shelves, Paolo Gabriele, the Pope’s butler and closest private assistant was arrested by officers of the Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City – the Vatican police. No doubt alerted to Gabriele by the very private nature of some of the leaked information, the Gendarmerie discovered stolen papers in his private apartment and charged him with illegal possession of secret documents.
Arrests Have Not Stopped Leaks
Paolo Gabriele has been held since his arrest in a secure room inside the police barracks of the Gendarmerie – there are no jail cells inside the city state. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi has said Gabriele will be held for a “few days” beyond the usual 50 day limit, and if indicted is likely to face a public trial in September. If he is found guilty he faces up to 30 years in jail. (4)
Despite Gabriele’s arrest, the leaks have continued unabated and the scandal shows no signs of coming to a head.
The Italian Press believe Paolo Gabriele is just one small part of a wider network of insiders who are involved in the leaks and the on-going release of information supports that view.
Whatever the real reasons behind Vatileaks, be it a power struggle, vendetta, inherent corruption or something else, the Catholic Church can ill-afford to continue on a road paved with strife and discontent.
Pope Benedict has got his work cut out in order to prevent a scandal turning into a fully-fledged disaster.