The Pope’s personal butler, Paolo Gabriele, 46 was arrested last week in connection with the leaking of letters from the Vatican, including many personal ones to and from Pope Benedict himself.
The story has all the elements of a punchline, or a 19th century potboiler. A butler being held in the Vatican’s own rarely-used jail, spying on the Holy Father.
The truth can be better than fiction and it usually is.
But there is something a little off about this story – at least to this Vatican-watcher.
Some of the leaked letters have exposed embarrassing mismanagement at Vatican palace, and enormous power struggles, and they are being published in a book in Italy later this month.
This arrest comes during the same week that the Vatican dismissed the head of its own bank, Gotti Tedeschi, after a no confidence vote. Tedeschi was suspected of money-laundering and mismanagement. The leaked letters seem to have moved Vatican officials to act more quickly.
Earlier this year, it was reported that the leaked letters contained the correspondence of a prelate, Carlo Maria Vigano, working in Rome who told the Holy Father about corruption in the Vatican’s money-management. Vigano pleaded with Benedict to hold onto his post so that he could continue the Holy Father’s mission of cleaning house, but Vigano was transferred to the States at the Holy Father’s diplomatic representative.
However, there is something about this story that makes little sense. Gabriele is the guy who helps the Pope get dressed, and handles things in the papal apartment. He was also appointed to his role under John Paul II. He absolutely would have access to some of the letters that have been leaked.
But many of the leaks out of the Vatican over the past two years have not been of personal letters to and from the pope, they’ve been out of the offices of the Vatican’s secretary of state. There is not a chance that Gabriele could have access to them.
It would be as if the Obama’s personal babysitter suddenly got access to files at the Pentagon. The butler may be guilty. And he may be the one chiefly responsible for the letters published later this month.
But it just isn’t plausible that he is the only leaker. The most humiliating leaks have come from inside the curial offices, that is from another high-ranking Cardinal. Perhaps someone who could even become the next Pope.
Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly referred to Carlo Vigana as an American, he is Italian.