Pope Benedict XVI called Monday for his aides near and far to remain loyal to him as the Vatican copes with the fallout of a growing scandal over leaked documents and the controversial ouster of the Vatican bank chief.
Benedict gave a pep talk of sorts to a group of prelates preparing to serve the Holy See abroad in diplomatic posts, telling them that their work “should make you grow in closeness to the pope, a closeness marked by interior trust.”
He also took the occasion to “mention with gratitude the assistance that I receive every day from my many collaborators in the Roman Curia,” the latest of several recent references to the loyalty he expects from his closest advisers.
On May 23, the pope's personal butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested after a stash of papal documents was found in his Vatican City apartment. He has been detained in a Vatican police barracks ever since, accused of aggravated theft.
The arrest was the first tangible result of a months-long Vatican investigation into leaked documents that started after damaging memos began appearing in the Italian media, and, last month, in a blockbuster book called “His Holiness” by investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.
On Monday, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the investigation was continuing following the two days of formal interrogation that Gabriele underwent last week. He ruled out media speculation that Gabriele was a sacrificial lamb and that his arrest signaled the end of the investigation.
“It's absolutely clear that the idea that he was a scapegoat doesn't minimally correspond to reality,” Lombardi said. “It's not like we found him and we closed the investigation, good-bye. Absolutely not. We found a precise, concrete element, and now we want to understand whatever responsibility that there may be beyond” Gabriele.
Lombardi has denied on several occasions that cardinals have been questioned or are suspected of being involved. A three-cardinal commission is investigating the leaks alongside Vatican police.
The leaks scandal has convulsed the Vatican for months, exposing episodes of political infighting, intrigue and accusations of corruption and homosexual liaisons going on under the watch of the 85-year-old Benedict.
It has come about at a terribly delicate time for the Holy See, which will learn in the first week of July if its efforts to shed its decades-old reputation as a scandal-clad offshore tax haven have borne fruit.
The Council of Europe's Moneyval committee will rate the Holy See's compliance with a host of recommendations aimed at fighting money laundering and terror financing - a key step in the Vatican's bid to get on the so-called “white list” of countries that share financial information to crack down on tax evasion.
On Monday, Lombardi appeared to downplay expectations of the Moneyval plenary session, noting that the Holy See is a unique entity compared to the countries that go through the Moneyval process. He said it's only “normal and natural” that it takes time to integrate the Holy See's finances into the world financial order - something he called an “epochal” shift.
“This isn't easy, or immediately smooth,” he said. “We had the courage and will to take this step, and for me that's a big deal. How much time, how we proceed along this path, how long it takes and the quality it takes - it's a new world. It's not something that's foreseeable or calculable.”
While the Moneyval process is highly technical, it has been jolted not only by the leaks scandal but also by the May 24 firing of the Vatican bank president.
The board of the bank, the Institute for Religious Works, unanimously ousted Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, accusing him of failing to do his job and actually blocking the Vatican's efforts at financial transparency.
If the ouster was unseemly to begin with, it took on even more sinister overtones over the weekend when an Italian newspaper reprinted a letter written by the bank's in-house psychotherapist giving his rather critical assessment of Gotti Tedeschi's psychological health.
The assessment was contained in a letter - on the doctor's professional letterhead - to the bank's general director Paolo Cipriani. Cipriani, who has clashed with Gotti Tedeschi, brought the psychotherapist into the bank last year to assess workplace stress levels. - Sapa-AP