VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI broke his silence Wednesday over the leaked-documents scandal that has convulsed the Vatican, saying he was saddened by the betrayal but grateful to those aides who work faithfully and in silence to help him do his job.
Benedict made his first direct comments on the scandal in off-the-cuff remarks at the end of his weekly general audience.
He lashed out at some of the media reports about the scandal, saying the “exaggerated” and “gratuitous” rumors had offered a false image of the Holy See.
The Italian media have been in a frenzy ever since the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested last week after Vatican investigators discovered papal documents in his Vatican City apartment. He remains in detention and has pledged to cooperate fully with the investigation.
Rumors have been flying in the press about possible cardinals implicated in the probe, pending resignations and details of the investigation that even Mr. Gabriele’s lawyers say they haven’t heard.
The Vatican spokesman has spent much of his daily briefings in recent days shooting down the various reports.
The scandal represents one of the greatest breaches of trust and security for the Holy See in recent memory given that a significant number of documents from the pope’s own desk were leaked to an investigative journalist.
The Vatican has denounced the leaks as criminal and immoral, and has opened a three-pronged investigation to get to the bottom of who was responsible.
“The events of recent days about the Curia and my collaborators have brought sadness in my heart,” Benedict said at the end of his audience.
But he added: “I want to renew my trust in and encouragement of my closest collaborators and all those who every day, with loyalty and a spirit of sacrifice and in silence, help me fulfill my ministry.”
Few people think Mr. Gabriele worked alone, and his promise to cooperate with the investigation has fueled speculation that others might be arrested soon.
The motivations for the leaks remain unclear: Some commentators say they appear designed to discredit Benedict’s No. 2, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Others say they’re aimed at undermining the Vatican’s efforts to become more financially transparent. Still others say they aim to show the 85-year-old Benedict’s weakness in running the church.
The scandal is playing out in a remarkable way, due in great part to the uniqueness of the institution in which it’s occurring and the players involved.
Mr. Gabriele is an employee of the Holy See, a citizen and resident of the Vatican city state. He is being held by Vatican police who have accused him of stealing the pope’s personal papers in a terrible breach of trust.
His lawyers are Italian legal professionals, but they are communicating to the media via the Vatican spokesman - a conflict of interest that the Rev. Federico Lombardi has acknowledged but tried to downplay by saying he was merely offering a service to release information to the media.
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