The Vatican faces a widening scandal that in one short week has seen Pope Benedict’s butler 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 betrayed 2,000 years ago.
The scandal, which has been brewing for months, has hit the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church. 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.
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 (IOR).
Anderson, among those who voted no-confidence in Italian Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, said in a telephone interview with Reuters that the president was sacked because of “a fundamental failure to perform his basic responsibilities”.
Anderson rejected accusations by Gotti Tedeschi that he had been ousted because he wanted the bank to be more transparent.
“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 senior management,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the Vatican is still aiming to make the OECD’s “white list” of states with financial transparency and other Vatican sources have pointed to the president’s very public ouster as an example of the drive for transparency.
A memorandum of the meeting that ousted Gotti Tedeschi and obtained by Reuters said he had shown “progressively erratic personal behavior” and failed to defend the bank “in the face of inaccurate media reports”.