The Vatican faces a widening scandal that in one short week has seen the butler of Pope Benedict XVI arrested, the president of its bank unceremoniously dismissed and the publication of a new book alleging conspiracies among cardinals.
It was a poisonous Pentecost Sunday for the Pope, who likely had the tumultuous events of the past week on his mind as he celebrated a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on the day regarded as the birthday of the church.
On Saturday his personal butler, Paolo Gabriele, 46, was formally charged with stealing confidential papal documents in the scandal that has come to be known as “Vatileaks.” Some of the documents allege cronyism and corruption in contracts with Italian companies.
One prominent cardinal, illustrating the growing emotion of the debate in Vatican circles, wrote in an Italian newspaper that the Pope had been betrayed just as Jesus was 2,000 years ago.
The scandal, which has been brewing for months, has hit the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church. Mr. Gabriele – now known in Vatican statements as “the defendant” – was until Wednesday night the quiet man who served the Pope’s meals, helped him dress and held his umbrella on rainy days.
The Pope made no reference during his two public appearances on Sunday to the scandal or the arrest, which aides said had “saddened and pained” him.
“I feel very sad for the Pope. This whole thing is such a disservice to the church,” Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus charity group who is also a member of the board of the Vatican bank, told Reuters.
Mr. Gabriele, Pope Benedict’s personal butler since 2006, has often been seen by the pontiff’s side in public, riding in the front seat of the Pope’s open-air jeep during Wednesday general audiences or shielding the pontiff from the rain. In private, he is a member of the small papal household that also includes the pontiff's private secretaries and four consecrated women who care for the papal apartment.
The night before the Vatican announced an arrest as part of its investigation of the leaks, it was rocked by the sudden ouster of the president of its bank, formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion
Earlier last week saw the publication of His Holiness, a new book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who was first leaked some of the documents in January and aired them on a television show.
He says he was given the material by people loyal to the church who wanted to expose corruption and that he did not pay anything for the documents.
After the events of last week, the atmosphere in the walled city-state was glum on Sunday. Vatican sources said they could not rule out more arrests, particularly if Mr. Gabriele named any accomplices.
The leaks scandal prompted one prominent churchman, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former archbishop of Milan and himself once a candidate for the papacy, to appeal to church leaders “to urgently win back the trust of the faithful.”
Few believed that Mr. Gabriele, a shy and private man, could have acted on his own and some said he may have been an unwitting pawn in a Vatican power struggle. “Either he lost his mind or this is a trap,” a friend of his in the Vatican told the newspaper La Stampa.
The leaked documents included letters by an archbishop who was transferred to Washington after blowing the whistle on what he saw as a web of corruption and cronyism, a memo that put a number of cardinals in a bad light, and documents alleging internal conflicts about the Vatican bank.
With a report from Associated Press
Follow us on Twitter: