Vatican leaks scandal

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The Vatican leaks scandal is a scandal initially involving leaked Vatican documents, exposing alleged corruption; in addition, an internal Vatican investigation purportedly uncovered the blackmailing of homosexual clergy by individuals outside the Church. Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published letters from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, in which he begged not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions in higher contract prices. The name "VatiLeaks" is a play on the word WikiLeaks, a not-for-profit media organisation whose goal is to bring important news and information to the public.

Over the following months the situation widened as documents were leaked to Italian journalists, uncovering power struggles inside the Vatican over its efforts to show greater financial transparency and comply with international norms to fight money laundering. In early 2012, an anonymous letter made the headlines for its warning of a death threat against Pope Benedict XVI.[1] The scandal escalated in May 2012 when Nuzzi published a book entitled His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI consisting of confidential letters and memos between Pope Benedict and his personal secretary, a controversial book that portrays the Vatican as a hotbed of jealousy, intrigue and underhanded factional fighting.[2] The book reveals details about the Pope's personal finances, and includes tales of bribes made to procure an audience with him.


The scandal first came to light in late January 2012 in a television program aired in Italy under the name of The Untouchables (Gli intoccabili),[3] and escalated in May 2012 when Gianluigi Nuzzi published a book entitled His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI consisting of confidential letters and memos.[2]

Among the documents were letters written to the pope and to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, by then apostolic nuncio to the United States, Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, complaining of corruption in Vatican finances and a campaign of defamation against him. Viganò, formerly the second ranked Vatican administrator to the pope, begged not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions in higher contract prices. However, John L. Allen Jr. suggests Viganò's transfer could have been about personality rather than policy. "[T]his would not seem to be about a courageous whistle-blower who's trying to expose wrong-doing or prompt reform. The motives seem more personal and political."[4]

An anonymous document described a conversation with Cardinal Paolo Romeo of Palermo, Sicily, in which he allegedly predicted the pope would be dead within 12 months. According to Allen none of the information leaked seem "especially fatal". "It's not so much the content of the leaks, but the fact of them, which is the real problem".[4]

Vatican internal investigation[edit]

The Vatican probe into the leaks worked along several tracks, with Vatican magistrates pursuing the criminal investigation and the Vatican secretariat of state an administrative probe. In March 2012 Pope Benedict appointed a commission of cardinals to investigate the leaks. The three cardinals appointed by Benedict acted in a supervisory role, looking beyond the narrow criminal scope of the leaks to interview broadly across the Vatican bureaucracy; they purportedly uncovered a sexual and blackmail scandal.[5] They reported directly to the pope, and could both share information with Vatican prosecutors and receive information from them, according to Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi. The group was headed by Cardinal Julian Herranz, an Opus Dei prelate who headed the Vatican's legal office as well as the disciplinary commission of the Vatican bureaucracy before retiring.[6]

Arrest of Paolo Gabriele[edit]

Paolo Gabriele, who had been the pope's personal butler since 2007, leaked the stolen information to Gianluigi Nuzzi. He was arrested on 23 May 2012 after confidential letters and documents addressed to the pope and other Vatican officials were found in his Vatican apartment. The arrest was made by Vatican police, who claimed to have found classified documents in his apartment that Gabriele shared with his wife and three children.[7] Similar documents had been published in Italian media over the previous five months; many of them dealt with allegations of corruption, abuse of power and a lack of financial transparency at the Vatican.[8]

Papal response[edit]

On 30 May 2012, Pope Benedict made his first direct comments on the scandal in remarks at the end of his weekly general audience. The Pope said the "exaggerated" and "gratuitous" rumours had offered a false image of the Holy See, commenting "The events of recent days about the Curia and my collaborators have brought sadness in my heart...I want to renew my trust in and encouragement of my closest collaborators and all those who every day, with loyalty and a spirit of sacrifice and in silence, help me fulfill my ministry."[9]

On 26 July, Pope Benedict held a meeting of the commission of cardinals. Included in attendance, were the head of the Vatican police, those judges involved in the case, and representatives of the Vatican secretariat of state, according to a report from Federico Lombardi.[10]

Trial of Paolo Gabriele and papal pardon[edit]

Piero Antonio Bonnet, the Vatican's judge, had been instructed to examine the evidence of the case and to decide whether there is sufficient material to proceed to trial. Gabriele faced a maximum sentence of 8 years for the illegal possession of documents of a head of state.[11]

Paolo Gabriele was indicted by Vatican magistrates on 13 August 2012 for aggravated theft.[12] The first hearing took place on 29 September 2012.

Gabriele's trial began on 2 October 2012.[13] He claimed to have stolen the documents to fight "evil and corruption" and put the Vatican "back on track".[13] Multiple evaluations of Gabriele's mental health provided conflicting results: concluding in one report that, Gabriele suffered from a "fragile personality with paranoid tendencies covering profound personal insecurity"; yet another report found that Gabriele showed no adequate signs of a major psychological disorder nor posing any serious threat to himself or others.[14] Vatican police seized encrypted documents and confidential papers that the Pope had marked "to be destroyed" when they raided the apartment of his butler, the court heard.[15]

On 6 October, Paolo Gabriele was found to be guilty of theft, and was sentenced to a reduced sentence of 18 months. Gabriele was also ordered to pay legal expenses.[16][17] However, Gabriele served his sentence in the Vatican itself, as opposed to the usual arrangement of sending prisoners to serve time in an Italian prison due to concerns that he might leak further secrets.[18] Gabriele was personally visited and pardoned by Benedict XVI on 22 December 2012.[19][20]

Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer specialist at the Secretariat of State who allegedly helped Gabriele, was convicted of obstruction of justice based on conflicting information he gave to prosecutors. He was sentenced to four months, which was amended to two months suspended with five years probation due to his long years of service and lack of a criminal record.[21]

Aftermath of the investigation[edit]

One of the reasons listed for the dismissal of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi as head of the Vatican bank was the "Failure to provide any formal explanation for the dissemination of documents last known to be in the president's possession."[22]

On 17 December 2012 the Pope received a report on "Vatican lobbies" prepared by cardinals Julián Herranz, Salvatore De Giorgi, a former archbishop of Palermo, and Jozef Tomko. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, speaking on Vatican Radio on 23 February 2013, strongly criticized media coverage[5][23] of the report[24] as a financial scandal which purportedly became, upon the cardinals' internal investigation, a gay sex and blackmail scandal as well.[25]

Although the dossier was available only to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the investigators themselves, the latter were free to discuss the results of their investigation with the Cardinal electors of the March 2013 papal conclave, and the dossier itself was to have been given to Benedict's successor as Pope, Francis.[26] On 1 March 2013, Lombardi reported that "two or three phones" had been tapped.[27][28]

On 12 June 2013 it was reported that leaked notes of a private conversation between Pope Francis and Catholic officials at the Latin American Conference of Religious (CLAR) confirmed the existence of "a stream of corruption", and that "The 'gay lobby' is mentioned, and it is true, it is there … We need to see what we can do". According to La Repubblica "Vatican investigators had identified a network of gay prelates".[29] Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi made no comment on the remarks made in "a private meeting".[30]

On July 2016, the Vatican court acquitted the two journalists involved in the Vatileaks trial, citing freedom of expression as its reason. Judge Giuseppe Della Torre, head of the tribunal of the Vatican City State declared that "the court had no legitimate jurisdiction over Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipald."[31] Msgr Lucio Balda, by contrast, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, and his sentence began on August 22 in a cell within the confines of the Vatican.[32] Requests for a papal pardon for Msgr Balda have, so far, been met with silence.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Day, Michael (28 May 2012). "Vatileaks: Hunt is on to find Vatican moles". London: The Independent. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  2. ^ a b Squires, Nick (23 May 2012). "Vatican newspaper editor accused of gay smear against rival". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 6 October 2012.
  3. ^ Ivereigh, Austen. Macmillan, The Great Reformer, 2014 ISBN 9781627791571
  4. ^ a b "Five questions about the Vatican's leaks scandal", Allen Jr., John L., National Catholic Reporter, 17 February 2012
  5. ^ a b Hooper, John (21 February 2013). "Papal resignation linked to inquiry into 'Vatican gay officials', says paper". The Guardian. London.
  6. ^ "Pope's butler vows to help Vatican scandal probe". 28 May 2012. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  7. ^ "Vatican Documents Leak: The Butler Did It". Gawker. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  8. ^ "Papal butler's lawyers say client acted out of love for church, pope".
  9. ^ "The Associated Press: Pope breaks silence over Vatileaks scandal". Google. 30 May 2012. Archived from the original on 4 June 2012. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  10. ^ "Pope hosts top-level meeting on leaks in Vatican".
  11. ^ Messia, Hada (CNN). "Verdict Expected in 'Vatileaks' Trial of Pope's Ex-butler". 6 October 2012. Retrieved 6 October 2012.
  12. ^ Wooden, Cindy (13 August 2012). "Vatican magistrates order trial for papal assistant accused of theft". Catholic New Service. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  13. ^ a b Squires, Nick (29 September 2012). "Trial of Pope's butler Paolo Gabriele begins as he's accused of leaking Vatican secrets". The Telegraph. Vatican City. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  14. ^ "Paolo Gabriele, the papal butler who fell from grace". 28 September 2012 – via Reuters.
  15. ^ Squires, Nick (3 October 2012). "Vatileaks: Butler 'stole papers Pope wanted destroyed'". The Telegraph. Vatican City. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  16. ^ WINFIELD, NICOLE. "POPE'S BUTLER CONVICTED IN LEAKS, Given 18 Months". AP. Retrieved 6 October 2012.
  17. ^ "Vatican Radio Vatican Radio".
  18. ^ Willey, David (26 October 2012). "Who, what, why: What's it like to be a prisoner of the Vatican?". BBC. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
  19. ^ "Pope Benedict pardons former butler Paolo Gabriele". BBC News. 22 December 2012. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  20. ^ "NEWS.VA: Papal visit and Christmas pardon for Paolo Gabriele".
  21. ^ "Pope butler's 'helper' Claudio Sciarpelletti on trial". 5 November 2012 – via
  22. ^ Faris, Stephan. "The Vatican Scandals: What Did the Pope's Butler Know?", Time, 29 May 2012
  23. ^ "Sesso e carriera, i ricatti in Vaticano dietro la rinuncia di Benedetto XVI". La Repubblica. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  24. ^ Raushenbush, Paul (23 February 2013). "Vatican Slams Media Reports Of Gay Scandal As 'Gossip, Misinformation And Slander'". Huffington Post.
  25. ^ Donadio, Rachel (2013-02-23). "Papal Conclave Accompanied by Reports of Scandals and Intrigue". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  26. ^ News, ABC. "Vatican Dossier for 'Pope's Eyes Only'". ABC News.
  27. ^ Bennettsmith, Meredith (1 March 2013). "Vatican Admits To Possible Wiretaps Of Church Officials". Huffington Post.
  28. ^ Chu, Henry; Kington, Tom (28 February 2013). "Pope Benedict XVI leaves the Vatican". Los Angeles Times.
  29. ^ "Style and substance". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  30. ^ Rome, Lizzy Davies in. "Pope Francis 'admits that gay prelate network exists'". the Guardian. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  31. ^ "Citing freedom of press, Vatican court acquits journalists in 'VatiLeaks' trial". 7 July 2016.
  32. ^ "The 18-month prison sentence begins for man behind "Vatileaks"". 30 August 2016.
  33. ^ "No reply from Pope to 'Vatileaks' convict's appeal for pardon : News Headlines".