The Pope’s Butler Did It!

The Pope's Butler sitting next to the driver in the front seat of the Popemobile during the Pope's weekly audience. Freeze frame of APTN video shot by Gianfranco Stara.

As I sit here writing this post, the man in the lower left hand corner of the photo above, Paolo Gabriele, the Pope’s butler, is under lock and key at the Vatican, under arrest for leaking secret Vatican documents.

It’s been a rocking and rolling couple of days at the Vatican.  First we had the sudden announcement Thursday evening of the dissmissal of the Vatican Bank President Ettore Gotti Tedeschi under a cloud of accusations.  As I was at the Vatican Friday morning covering that story, the Pope’s spokesman released a stunning two-line statement saying they had caught the man behind the leaking of secret Vatican documents, known as the Vatileaks crisis.  It later emerged that the man being held at the Vatican police station, known as the “Gendarmerie” was none other than the Pope’s personal manservant, Paolo Gabriele.

This is the man that serves the Pope his breakfast, assists him in his audiences, oftening holding an umbrella over his head when it is raining, serves the Pope his lunch and his dinner.  He is the one non-priest or nun that is closest to the Pope and is with him from six in the morning until nine at night.  He is also one of the handful of people who has access to the Papal apartments.

According to news reports the Vatican gendarmes searched Gabriele’s Vatican apartment  — and found the “smoking gun”, lots of documents that he should not have had.

The Vatican has been reeling in recent months from vicious back-stabbing and infighting that has found its way into all the Italian papers.  Much of it seems to be swirling around the controversial figure of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and the man who is supposed to be running the Vatican.

According to Marco Politi,  a papal biographer who I interviewed today, whose most recent book “Joseph Ratzinger: Crisis of a Papacy” recounts the many difficulties encountered by Benedict XVI, the butler is just one low-level figure involved in the Vatileaks scandal.  Politi told me, “The butler has the knife but he’s not the mastermind of the plot.  Of course it made a great upheaval in the Vatican to know that the personal assistant of Pope Benedict XVI is involved in the affair, but it is  clear that there is not only one man but a group of Monsignors and employees of the Vatican who are following a line of underground opposition to the Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone.”

Apparently the Pope has been shocked and pained that the man who has been literally standing at his side all the years has apparently betrayed him.

So why all this scandal and back-stabbing?  Many Vatican analysts have suggested to me that it is because the German Pope is 85 and although in apparently good health, many are beginning to jockey for position as his successor. The Italians believe–given the high number of Italian and European Cardinals — that one of them will get it so they are doing in the competition.  One Italian journalist who covers the Vatican told me this week that it has always been like this at the Vatican since the time of the Borgias, but the novelty is the use of the media by the warring parties.  Instead of keeping the infighting behind Vatican walls it has spilled into the press with tweet, newspapers, blogs and tv reports ripe with juicy details of the Vatican’s strife.

What with mobsters and missing girls, butlers and leaked documents, there is never a dull moment for a poor old Mozzarella Mamma in Rome these days.

 

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Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

9 Comments

  1. Frequent Flyer
    2012/05/28

    Great stuff. I’m throwing ways my spy and crine novels and taking up MM on the Vatican as my new exciting airplane reading!!
    FF

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/05/29

      Hello Frequent Flyer — Just got back from the Vatican now after spending today, yesterday and the whole weekend there. This story is unbelievable. The poor Vatican spokesman is desperately trying to keep the journalists from getting carried away, but it is out of control. But more than the journalists being out of control, what is happening behind Vatican walls is incredible. The Bishops and Cardinals have got their knives out and sharpened. Real cloak and dagger stuff. Then the absurdity today was that the lawyer for the poor butler (defending the accused) is releasing his statements through the Vatican (the accuser) press office. If I ever get a break from covering it for AP Television, I will do another post.

      Reply
  2. Barbara Landi
    2012/05/28

    Now that Amanda Knox has finally gone home, the poor Italian press must be starving and is attacking this latest juicy, delectable story like a pride of lions with a wildebeest!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/05/29

      Barbara, you are absolutely right that the press corps is all over this juicy, delectable story, but interestingly it is a different group from the ones covering the Amanda Knox. This group is the “Vaticanisti” – journalists dedicated to covering the Vatican. And I must say they are much more adept at covering the cloak and dagger stuff behind the Vatican walls than I am. I need to start arranging secret meetings with Monsignors to catch up….but when does a Mozzarella Mamma have time for all that!

      Reply
  3. Alan
    2012/05/28

    . . just as corrupt as any other corporate boardroom. Millstones around the neck of humanity!

    Reply
  4. Cynfy
    2012/05/30

    Rather sad. I guess anytime there are two people together there is some politics. Hard to believe those who preach God’s love can also have this within them. Even though the butler isn’t a priest, if those behind the scandal are and are influencing him, this is pretty nasty for everyone. I’ll pray for the Pope.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/05/31

      Thanks for your comment. I have been spending a lot of time covering this story the past few days. It is becoming very clear that the butler was not acting alone. Yesterday, I interviewed the journalist who published a book detailing a lot of the documents (Gianlugi Nuzzi: “His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI) and he said he is aware of more than 10 people involved — he would not specify if they were priests, bishops or cardinals or inside or outside the Vatican. Yesterday at his weekly audience the Pope said he has been very saddened by the whole affair. A commission led by three Cardinals is still investigating– hunting for the others involved– together with the Vatican’s police or “gendarmerie”.

      Reply
  5. AdriBarr
    2012/06/06

    Hi Trisha,

    This is indeed a juicy story, and for those of us watching “The Borgias” on Showtime TV (Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander!), this fits right in. My, but what a history of conspiracy there is in the Papacy. I love that you are keeping us updated. I can only imagine how many are involved in this one. Plus ca change…

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/06/08

      Thanks Adri for your comment. Sorry to be slow in approving it, I am moving and overwhelmed. There is also more news on the Pope’s butler front but since I have been out of work I am not up on all the details so I can’t update the blog just yet.

      Reply

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