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Rome - Pope Benedict will not be frightened by a leaks scandal that has shaken the Vatican, his powerful right-hand man said on Monday in his first public comment on what he called “ferocious and targeted” attacks on the pontiff and the church.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, or prime minister, is regarded as the chief target of the unprecedented campaign of leaking which led to the arrest of the pope's butler on May 23.
Many Vatican insiders say the butler is merely a scapegoat in a much wider power struggle within the Holy See between Bertone's allies and enemies.
“Instrumental attacks have always existed (inside the church)... But this time these attacks appear more targeted, at times even ferocious, wounding and organised,” Bertone said in an interview with Italian state television's flagship news programme.
“I'd like to underline that Benedict XVI, as everybody knows, is a gentle man, of great faith and prayer. He is certainly not frightened by attacks of any kind,” he said.
The scandal exploded last month when, in the space of a few days, the head of the Vatican's bank was abruptly dismissed, the pope's butler was arrested and a book containing a trove of private Vatican correspondence was published.
The leaked documents allege corruption in the Vatican's business dealings with Italian companies, cronyism and power struggles among rival cardinals, as well as clashes over the management of the Vatican's bank, the IOR.
“What is saddest is the violation of the Holy Father's and his closest collaborators' privacy,” Bertone said. “However, I'd like to say that these have not been, and are not, days of division but of unity.”
Bertone and the pope appeared side by side during a weekend visit to Milan and the pontiff last week renewed his trust in his “closest collaborators”, in what many interpreted as a gesture of support for his deputy.
But in a sign that the scandal may widen further, an Italian newspaper published on Sunday new documents showing the pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was not the only person in possession of confidential Vatican correspondence.
A note the La Repubblica daily said it had received anonymously after the butler's arrest said there were “hundreds more documents” and that he was just a fall guy.
Gabriele, who is being held in a “safe room” by Vatican police, is expected be questioned this week by a Vatican prosecutor who will decide if there are grounds to order him to stand trial. - Reuters