VATICAN CITY (AP) — One of the Vatican’s biggest scandals in decades widened Monday with the pope’s butler — arrested for allegedly having confidential documents in his home — agreeing to cooperate with investigators, his lawyer said Monday.
Paolo Gabriele’s pledge to cooperate with Vatican magistrates raises the specter that high-ranking prelates may soon be named in the investigation into leaks of confidential Vatican correspondence that have shed a light on power struggles and intrigue inside the highest levels of the Catholic Church.
Italian media reported Monday that a cardinal is suspected of playing a major role in the “Vatileaks” scandal. However, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, denied the reports. He said many Vatican officials were being questioned in the investigation but insisted “there is no cardinal under suspicion.”
He also dismissed as “pure fantasy” a rash of other unsourced reports about the investigation in the Italian media, which have been on a frenzy ever since reports of Gabriele’s detention emerged Friday.
Gabriele, the pope’s personal butler since 2006, was arrested Wednesday evening after documents he had no business having in his possession were found inside his Vatican City apartment. He remains in custody in a Vatican detention facility, accused of theft, and has met with his wife and lawyers.
Gabriele’s lawyer Carlo Fusco said his client would “respond to all the questions and will collaborate with investigators to ascertain the truth.”
The 46-year-old father of three was always considered extremely loyal to Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II, for whom he briefly served. Vatican insiders said they were baffled by his alleged involvement in the scandal. Fusco reported Monday that Gabriele was “very serene and calm.”
Gabriele’s arrest gave the already sordid scandal of the leaks an unfathomable Hollywood twist. So far, he remains the only one who has been arrested, but Lombardi stressed that the investigation was continuing.
The Vatileaks scandal broke in January when Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi broadcast letters from the former No. 2 Vatican administrator to the pope in which he begged not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of euros in higher contract prices. The prelate, Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano, is now the Vatican’s U.S. ambassador.
The scandal widened over the following months with documents leaked to Italian journalists that laid bare clear power struggles inside the Vatican over its efforts to show greater financial transparency.
The Vatican probe is actually working on two separate tracks: Vatican magistrates are pursuing the criminal investigation, and Gabriele was arrested as part of that. Separately, Pope Benedict XVI has appointed three cardinals to form an investigative commission to look beyond the narrow criminal scope of the leaks.
They report directly to the pope, whom Lombardi said, was being kept informed of the investigation.
“He’s aware of the delicate situation that the Roman curia is going through, but he’s keeping up his serenity and great faith and moral superiority,” Lombardi said.
Benedict has not commented directly on the scandal.
Nuzzi, the author of “Vatican SpA,” a 2009 volume laying out shady dealings of the Vatican bank based on leaked documents, last weekend published “His Holiness,” which presented a trove of other documents including personal correspondence to and from the pope and his secretary, many of them painting Benedict’s No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in a negative light.
Nuzzi says he was offered the documents by multiple Vatican sources and insisted he didn’t pay a cent to any of them.