VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s law enforcement bureau arrested Pope Benedict XVI’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, on suspicion of leaking a series of confidential Vatican documents and letters to the media.
The Holy See Press Office's director, Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters May 25 that investigations initiated by Vatican police to discover the source of the leaks have identified a person “in illegal possession of such material.” Independent Vatican reports confirmed it was Gabriele.
A series of confidential documents and letters began appearing in the Italian media at the beginning of the year, each describing alleged corruption, mismanagement and internal conflicts within the Holy See.
One contained personal letters to Pope Benedict XVI alleging corruption and written last year by the current apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, when he was deputy head of Vatican city state. The allegations of mismanagement and cronyism were firmly denied by Archbishop Viganò’s superior at the time, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo.
Gabriele is being held for further questioning.
The Italian news agency AGI claimed that “a large number of confidential documents” were found in a Vatican apartment close to the Vatican walls where Gabriele lives with his wife and three children. The butler, thought to be in his early 40s, has worked as a member of the Pontifical Family since 2006, having previously served under American Archbishop James Harvey in the Pontifical Household.
Father Lombardi stressed to the Register that he “did not mention any names” in his statement to reporters earlier today, but reiterated that “he is under arrest, and he is not an ecclesiastic.”
If charged, the suspect will be subject to three sets of proceedings and appear before the Apostolic Tribunal — something that has not happened for many years, according to canon lawyers.
The Italian daily newspaper Il Foglio, which was the first to reveal Gabriele as the suspect, reported this afternoon that “many authoritative Vatican representatives” have said his arrest was “implausible,” given that he is known to be a man of faith and has a devotion to St. Faustina Kowalska. The paper therefore asserted he was probably a scapegoat. But AGI reported his arrest “would not have been made lightly,” given that he belongs to the Pope’s inner circle.
The suspect was arrested May 23 on the instructions of the Commission of Cardinals set up to discover the person responsible, under the direction of a “Promoter of Justice.”
The commission, made up of three retired cardinals — Julian Herranz, Josef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi — was established by Pope Benedict in the wake of recent leaks of reserved and confidential documents on television, in newspapers and in other communications media.
The investigations were given added urgency after excerpts of further revelations appeared in a supplement of the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera last week. In response, the Vatican issued a statement May 19 saying the leaking of the latest documents “no longer appears as a questionable — though obviously defamatory — journalistic initiative, but clearly assumes the characteristics of a criminal act.”
The statement added that the Holy See would take the necessary steps to ensure that those responsible “answer to justice for their acts.”
The excerpts in question were taken from His Holiness, a new book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, which contains confidential documents and private letters to the Pope, as well as details of internal Vatican conflicts. In particular, it contains confidential documents on the management of the Institute for Works of Religion, better known as the Vatican Bank.
News of the arrest comes just a day after the president of the Vatican Bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was ousted by its supervisory board in a vote of no confidence. The official reason for his departure was his failure to fulfill the “primary functions of his office,” but according to reports in the Italian media, again citing “well-informed sources,” the Italian financier was also suspected of being involved in the leaking of the documents.
The Vatican said it was “saddened by the events which led to this vote of no confidence,” but added that it believes the action was “important in order to maintain the vitality of the institute.”
Observers noticed the statement did not contain any word of thanks to Gotti Tedeschi, who had served as president of the Vatican Bank since 2009.
Under Pope Benedict’s instruction, he was reportedly engaged in making the institute’s finances more transparent so they could come in line with international rules against money-laundering.
In comments to the Register, Father Lombardi stressed he had “not made any connection” between the leaks and Gotti Tedeschi and that “these situations are entirely different.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.