Vatican says reports that the pope will step down "have no foundation in reality"
The pope's butler is suspected of taking confidential documents, leaking them to journalist
The butler probably will seek monitored surveillance or house arrest, the Vatican says
Some say the scandal sheds light on a covert power struggle in the Catholic Church
Pope Benedict XVI’s spokesman has denied the pontiff will resign over the arrest of his butler on suspicion of leaking confidential documents, the Vatican press office said Thursday.
During a Wednesday meeting with journalists to answer questions about the situation, the Rev. Frederico Lombardi said the “hypothesis” advanced by some media outlets that the pope would resign are “baseless creations of some journalists, which have no foundation in reality.”
Butler Paolo Gabriele, 46, was arrested last week and accused of illegal possession of confidential documents. Lombardi said Wednesday that Gabriele has met with his attorneys, “who will probably request monitored surveillance or house arrest for their client.”
Gabriele, one of only a handful of people with access to the pontiff’s private desk, has been charged with aggravated theft for allegedly stealing private documents, Lombardi said earlier. He is suspected of leaking the papers to an Italian journalist.
The Vatican has said confidential documents were found in Gabriele’s apartment in Vatican territory.
But Lombardi said Wednesday that media reports that said packets of documents, prepared for sending to specific people, were found in Gabriele’s home were unfounded. Material found in Gabriele’s possession is being studied and catalogued, he said.
“It seems to me,” Lombardi said, “that there is a line of desire for truth and clarity, a desire for transparency that, although it will take time, continues forward. I thus honestly believe that we are trying to handle this new situation: We are seeking the truth and trying to objectively understand what may have happened.”
The investigation, he said, is still in its preliminary stages.
Last month, the Vatican gave Cardinal Julian Herranz a “pontifical mandate” to uncover the source of hundreds of personal letters and confidential documents given to Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian journalist and author of “Sua Santita,” a book that translates to “His Holiness” and includes the documents.
Nuzzi would not divulge his sources but previously told CNN that his primary source – whom he referred to as “Maria” in his book – “risked life and limb” if ever discovered.
He said the source worked inside the Vatican but would not reveal details, including the source’s gender, age and whether or not they were clergy. He said this week that he had not been questioned in connection with Gabriele’s arrest.
The Vatican called publication of Nuzzi’s book “criminal” when it was released in Italian this month.
A top Roman Catholic Church official, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, told the Vatican’s official newspaper Wednesday the theft of the documents was “an immoral act of unprecedented gravity” and a “despicable abuse of the relationship of trust that exists between Benedict XVI and those who turn to him.” With the leaks, he said, the pope’s very ministry “has come under attack.”
But observers say the scandal lifts the lid on a secret power struggle going on behind the closed doors of the Catholic Church. The alleged documents leak, along with the firing of the head of the Vatican Bank, are aimed at weakening the authority of the pope’s second-in-command, they say.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, is involved in a power struggle with his predecessor, the observers said. “The reason for this fight is that the secretary of state will have a strong influence over the next conclave which will choose the next pope,” said Giacomo Galeazzi, a journalist at the Italian daily La Stampa.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state to the late John Paul II, is trying to sideline Bertone and put one of his own proteges in place before Benedict dies, he said. “The leaks will end when Bertone is out as secretary of state,” Galeazzi said.
When he became Vatican secretary of state, Bertone “did what normally happens,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, author of “Inside the Vatican.” “He brought in his team, the people he likes, the people he trusts, and put them in key positions in the Vatican.”
“There are people who had hitched their star to the previous secretary of state, who thought by now they would become an archbishop or a cardinal, and they didn’t,” Reese said. “These people are unhappy and don’t like Bertone.”
CNN’s Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report.