Vatican summer scandal: Did the pope's butler really do it?

The arrest of Pope Benedict XVI’s valet — and all the media speculation and schadenfreude surrounding it — brought back memories of when I traipsed around Rome covering a sordid/ridiculous Vatican scandal/soap opera back in the summer of 2001 relating to Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, his late-night secret meeting with the pope to plead for Church reconciliation, and the hunger strike in Rome orchestrated by his Korean wife (arranged by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon) to force the archbishop to meet with her. 

To bring up to speed all those who might not have heard the late May developments in this newest Vatican drama: The 46-year-old Italian layman (who lives in a Vatican apartment with his wife and three children) who dresses the pope, serves his meals and holds an umbrella over him on rainy days (those were the three job duties most media zeroed in on), and who thus has a degree of access to the pope that is shared by no one except the pope’s two priest secretaries, is being investigated on suspicion of leaking private papal correspondence and other documents to an Italian journalist. 

According to Catholic News Service: “Gabriele’s arrest was part of a Vatican investigation into a series of document leaks, popularly referred to as ‘VatiLeaks’ in the media. 

“The leaks began in January with the publication of letters written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano when he was secretary-general of the Governor’s Office of Vatican City State. The archbishop, who now is nuncio to the United States, warned of corruption, abuse of power, a lack of transparency in awarding Vatican contracts and opposition to financial reforms. 

“Later leaks included a letter from a Vatican official questioning the current reform of the Vatican’s finance laws.” 

After Gabriele’s arrest, Pope Benedict was “informed about everything and can’t help but be saddened,” according to the head of the Vatican’s Press Office, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi. 

The stealing and distribution of the private papers was criminal and a very serious violation of trust. It’s easy to lose sight of that if you get caught up in the tsunami of conspiracy theories, outlandish speculation and general gleeful hand-rubbing by the Italian press. 

Some papers are quoting the priest who regularly hears the valet’s confession and swears there’s no way he could have done it because of his integrity and sense of devotion to the pope. Others are sure that Gabriele is being scapegoated by higher-ups with an ax to grind. 

But the story, combined with the recent unceremonious firing of the president of the Vatican bank, certainly gives a sense of a Vatican bureaucracy that is disunited and chaotic. 

Take heart: Somehow, the Church has survived traitorous valets and uxorious archbishops for centuries. Now is no different.  

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