- Associated Press - Thursday, December 13, 2012

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican has happily accepted a donated Nativity scene for St. Peter’s Square this Christmas after a previous setup costing 550,000 euros ($717,000) was exposed by the embarrassing scandal over leaked Vatican documents.

Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, the No. 2 administrator of the Vatican city-state, told reporters Thursday that the Vatican was spending just 21,800 euros ($28,537) for labor and costs to mount the scene, which will be unveiled Dec. 24, hours before Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Midnight Mass. The Italian region of Basilicata — one of the nation’s poorest — provided the scene after raising nearly 90,000 euros ($117,811) from corporate and other sponsors.

Basilicata regional officials and their sponsors were rewarded with a full-court Vatican press conference Thursday, at which the head of the Vatican Museums extolled the natural marvels of the southern region, urging tourists to visit, and Monsignor Sciacca thanked Basilicata for its generosity in tough economic times.

One of the most damaging documents leaked during the so-called Vatileaks scandal was a letter from Monsignor Sciacca’s predecessor complaining that the Vatican was losing millions of euros on corruption and unnecessary expenses such as the 2009 Nativity scene that cost 550,000 euros.


The predecessor, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, boasted in an April 4, 2011, letter to Benedict that he had trimmed the cost for the 2010 edition to a mere 300,000 euros ($392,636). He subsequently was named the Vatican’s ambassador to Washington, a move he saw as punishment for having stepped on too many toes in his cost-cutting initiatives.

Monsignor Sciacca said that by accepting a donated scene this year, the Vatican was saving some 180,000 euros ($235,580) over the 2011 edition — and said he already had an offer for 2013.

He denied the Vatican’s enthusiasm for donated scenes was a response to the Vigano letters, saying it was merely “good sense” to take something that is donated rather than spend money on it.

“I hope there are other offers,” he said.

Archbishop Vigano’s letters were the first of many documents from the pope’s desk that were leaked to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi by Benedict’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele. The scandal convulsed the Vatican for months, damaged its confidential relations with bishops and led to an unprecedented multipronged investigation.

Gabriele was arrested in May, was convicted by a Vatican court in October of aggravated theft and is serving an 18-month prison sentence in a room in the Vatican police barracks. An expected papal pardon hasn’t yet materialized.

Gabriele told Vatican investigators that he leaked the documents because he wanted to expose the “evil and corruption” in the church in hopes of putting it back on the right track.

Some may be surprised that the Vatican is mounting a full-fledged Nativity scene at all this year, given the spate of erroneous media reports that Benedict was canceling the traditional display featuring Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus in a manger surrounded by farm animals.

In his recent book “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives,” Benedict noted that there is no biblical reference to animals in the manger at the time of Jesus’ birth — a statement of fact that nevertheless sparked headlines around the world.

Lost in the hype was Benedict’s quick conclusion that “No representation of the crib is complete without the ox and the ass.”

Vatican officials confirmed that this year’s Nativity scene would indeed have ox and ass, as well as hens and sheep typical of southern Italy’s famed artisinal Nativity scenes.