VatiLeaks Strikes Again: Was the Butler Framed?

Fresh leaks from inside the Vatican suggest that the pope’s attendant was merely the ‘scapegoat.’

Vincenzo Pinto, AFP / Getty Images

The VatiLeaks source has struck again! But this time, the butler didn’t do it.

On Sunday, editors at the Italian newspaper La Repubblica published several documents they say were mailed to them after the arrest of Pope Benedict XVI’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, on May 24.

Gabriele is being held in a “secure room” somewhere within the tiny walled borders of Vatican City. He faces 30 years in prison for aggravated theft for allegedly leaking documents to Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian journalist who printed many of the confidential papers in the bestselling book His Holiness. Nuzzi will not reveal his sources’ names, ages, or gender, but he told The Daily Beast that they were Vatican employees trying to expose “the truth behind the Vatican’s lies.”

Among the fresh leaks obtained by La Repubblica are supposedly letters from the desk of the pope’s private secretary, featuring the Holy See’s crested letterhead and the signature “don Georg Gaenswein.” The contents are blanked out; the secret sender told the paper that the bodies of the letters were hidden so as not to “offend the Holy Father,” but that he or she was prepared to share them if the Vatican didn’t come clean about the real source of the leaks.

The sender is accusing Gaenswein, a personal secretary to the pope, and Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of spearheading an unnamed plot against the pope and Vatican hierarchy. The newspaper did not specify whether that plot was the leaking of the documents or an unrelated intrigue. In a not-so-veiled threat against the “real culprits,” the secret source promised that there were “hundreds more” letters ready to be sent if the Vatican didn’t own up to who was really behind the leaks.

In one of three letters the paper published, American Cardinal Leo Raymond Burke wrote a nasty note to Bertone, complaining to him that he had been sidelined on an important procedural step with regard to the approval of liturgical reform, causing him great embarrassment among his peers in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In the letter, Burke also poured scorn on the group Neocatechumenal Way, expressing his concern to the Holy See’s second-in-command that the pope might soon approve their revised liturgy recommendations at great detriment to the institution as a whole. “This does not seem consistent with the pope’s liturgical intentions,” the cardinal wrote.

The newspaper said that the documents came with an unsigned computer-generated letter that calls into question the arrest of Gabriele, describing him as “a scapegoat” who is taking the fall for the crimes of higher-ups. The new leaker wrote to the newspaper, “It is time to drive out the real culprits inside the Vatican. Once again, the usual scapegoats are paying the price. What better victim than the Holy Father’s butler? The real truth lies in the Vatican’s central power.”

Since Gabriele’s arrest, there has been much speculation in Rome about just who was the mastermind behind the document dump. (The local press has nicknamed the VatiLeaks source "corvo," or "raven.") Friends of the butler vow that he would have never betrayed the pope, describing him as a “simple man” without a motive. Nuzzi, who likened Gabriele’s arrest to the plot of the Walt Disney film Aristocats, in which a villainous butler is cast as the obvious culprit because of his low rank, told The Daily Beast he never paid for the documents, and said that his sources never asked him for money. “Those who provided these documents have done it because they believe it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Sometimes truth and justice are a powerful motivation.”

The pope, who spent the weekend in Milan celebrating the role of the traditional family, has made only passing reference to the growing scandal. At his customary open-air audience in St. Peter’s Square last Wednesday, he chastised the press for sensationalizing the story. "The events of recent days involving the Curia and my collaborators have brought sadness to my heart," he said. “There is increasing conjecture, amplified by the media, which is entirely gratuitous and goes beyond the facts and instead presents a completely unrealistic image of the Holy See."

But if new documents continue to surface, spilling internal secrets, outlining power struggles, and exposing rampant corruption, the Vatican’s public image will be more like a self-portrait.