In an attempt to restore trust after a series of unauthorized leaks to the Italian media, the Vatican has opened a rare and thorough investigation to find out the identity of those responsible.
The leaks, which appeared in newspaper reports in January and February, have alleged corruption, mismanagement and internal conflicts among senior officials in the Secretariat of State.
Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, made the announcement in the daily’s March 17 edition: He summarized an interview with Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the substitute of the Secretariat of State, a job comparable to the White House’s chief of staff. The archbishop, who is the third-most senior figure in the Roman Curia after the Holy Father and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, is responsible for the day-to-day running of the Vatican.
Vian reported that an investigation was “under way at various levels,” adding that slander was “at the root” of the unauthorized disclosures that he described as a “deplorable and sad affair.”
“The hope is that an atmosphere of trust will be pieced back together,” Vian wrote. “The Pope, constantly informed, is saddened; however, [he is] is serene and looking to the future.”
The leaks, which began in January, have alleged cronyism and waste in the Vatican procurement process, as well as resistance to bring the Vatican’s financial laws into line with international standards. Further, the links disclosed a confidential letter, referred to by an Italian cardinal, which contained a threat to assassinate the Pope. (The story was described as “nonsense” by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.) The document’s authenticity has not been denied by the Vatican, however.
In his March 17 interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Becciu began by issuing a robust defense of Roman Curia officials.
“I had never worked here before, and from the day that I arrived, last May 31, I, over time, found people committed to serving the Holy See, devoted to the Pope, competent, taking pride in their work,” he said.
The veteran Vatican diplomat was keen to counter an image of the Curia, fueled by the recent leaks, as a place of careerism and plotting. He said the reality is “far from such stereotypes.”
He recalled a speech Pope Paul VI gave in 1963: The Holy Father described the Curia’s proper function as “the guardian or echo of divine truth,” whose duty is “to listen and to interpret the voice of the Pope.” It is not “a gymnasium of hidden ambitions and deaf rivalries, as others accuse,” the Pope said.
He also recalled Benedict XVI’s appraisal of the Curia, delivered in an address in May 2005. The Pope praised the “skill and professionalism of the work done here” and how the “love for Christ, for the Church and for souls plays a part in our professionalism.”
“We do not work — as many say of the work — to defend a power. We do not have a worldly, secular power. We do not work for prestige, nor do we work to expand a business or the like. In reality, we work so that the pathways of the world are opened to Christ. The purpose of all of our work, with all of its ramifications, is actually, ultimately, so that his Gospel — as well as the joy of redemption — may reach the world,” Benedict said.
Echoing the Pope’s sentiment, Archbishop Becciu said the work that takes place in the Secretariat of State is “objective and good, both among the clergy and the laity.” He continued: “In recent years, someone said to me that they were ashamed to admit that they worked in the Vatican. And I replied: ‘Raise your head and be proud.’ The few who have been unfair shouldn’t obscure this positive reality.”
The substitute at the Secretariat of State, appointed last year by Cardinal Bertone, used strong words against those responsible for the leaks, calling on them to examine their consciences, as it is “slander” and “cowardice” to profit from a “privileged situation” by publishing documents whose confidentiality they “were expected to respect.”
Italian Vatican observers believe the leaks were used to “settle the scores” inside the Vatican and were possibly the work of officials who wish to see changes in the Secretariat of State. In particular, they say, these persons are opposed to the leadership of Cardinal Bertone.
Others, however, have dismissed the episode as a “storm in a teacup.” They see the revelations as relatively minor and having no effect on the Church’s future.
Still, the Vatican says it has authorized a “thorough” investigation to be carried out on three administrative levels and within “each department of the Holy See.”
“The hope is that this pieces our work back together: mutual trust, which of course, presupposes seriousness, loyalty, fairness,” Archbishop Becciu said, adding that the Holy Father has offered encouragement for the future.
He said, “His daily witness of serenity and determination is an inspiration to us all.”
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.