What may be the Vatican's biggest scandal in decades is widening amid reports an Italian cardinal could be involved in a power struggle involving leaked documents, corruption and intrigue.
Leading Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and Il Messaggero reported Monday that the pope’s butler — arrested three days ago for allegedly feeding documents to Italian journalists — did not act alone.
The papers allege an unidentified cardinal is suspected of playing a major role in the scandal. However, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, denied the reports that a cardinal might be the next target of the “Vatileaks” probe.
Lombardi said many Vatican officials were being questioned in the investigation but insisted: “There is no cardinal under suspicion.”
Earlier last week, the publication of "His Holiness," a new book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi brought the Vatican leaks scandal new life in the Italian press.
Nuzzi, who was first leaked some of the documents in January and aired them on a television show, says he was given the material by people loyal to the Church who wanted to expose corruption.
The leaked documents included letters by an archbishop who was transferred to Washington after blowing the whistle on what he saw as a web of corruption and cronyism, a memo that cast suspicion on several cardinals, and documents alleging internal corruption in the Vatican bank.
Nuzzi told viewers on his television show that he did not pay anything for the documents.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for the pope’s butler says his client has pledged “full cooperation” in the investigation and wants the truth to come out.
The decision by butler Paolo Gabriele to cooperate with Vatican investigators raises the specter that higher-ranking prelates may soon be named in the scandal.
Attorney Carlo Fusco said in a statement Monday that Gabriele would “respond to all the questions and will collaborate with investigators to ascertain the truth.”
Gabriele, the pope’s personal butler since 2006, was arrested Wednesday evening after documents he should not have had in his possession were found inside his Vatican City apartment.
He remains in detention in a Vatican detention facility, accused of theft, and has met with his wife and lawyers. The Vatican, as a sovereign city-state, maintains its own police and courts.
His arrest was pursuant to leaks of confidential Vatican correspondence that have shed light on power struggles and intrigue inside the highest levels of the Catholic Church.
According to the Associated Press, the 46-year-old father of three was always considered extremely loyal to Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, John Paul II, whom he briefly served.
Vatican insiders were quoted as being "baffled" by his alleged involvement. "Either he lost his mind or this is a trap," a friend of Gabriele's in the Vatican told the newspaper La Stampa.
"Whoever convinced him to do this is even more guilty because he manipulated a simple person."
One prominent cardinal, illustrating the growing emotion of the debate in Vatican circles, wrote in an Italian newspaper that the pope had been "betrayed just as Jesus was betrayed 2,000 years ago."
Gabriele’s arrest gave the already high-profile scandal of the leaks a melodramatic twist, but Fusco reported Monday that Gabriele was “very serene and calm."
AFP quoted Vatican sources saying the probe is working on two separate tracks: Vatican magistrates are pursuing the criminal investigation, and Gabriele was arrested as part of that.
Separately, Pope Benedict XVI appointed three cardinals to form an investigative commission to look beyond the narrow criminal scope of the leaks.
Those cardinals have carte blanche to interview the Vatican bureaucracy en toto, Lombardi said, and can both share information with Vatican prosecutors and receive information from them.
They report directly to the pope, whom Lombardi said was being kept informed of the investigation. Benedict has not commented directly on the scandal.
However, aides close to the pope told reporters he is "deeply saddened" by the affair.
Church observers also note the scandal underscores the deep political tensions and power plays that occupy the Roman Catholic Church’s most prominent leaders.
"This is a strategy of tension, an orgy of vendettas and pre-emptive vendettas that has now spun out of the control of those who thought they could orchestrate it," Church historian Alberto Melloni wrote in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.