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.