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Vatican Tries to Distance Itself from Scandal, ‘Sensitive’ Leaked Documents

October 3, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Did the Pope's former butler act alone? And how has the Vatican reacted to the revelation that someone so close to the Pope stole documents? Jeffrey Brown talks to Reuters' Vatican reporter Naomi O'Leary about motivations and fallout surrounding the case.

JEFFREY BROWN: And for more, we turn to Naomi O’Leary, who covers the Vatican for Reuters in Rome.

So, Naomi, what kind of documents was the pope’s butler taking? What do we know?

NAOMI O’LEARY, Reuters: Well, from what we learned from his testimony and from the testimony of the police, these were documents that were of a sensitive nature taken from the pope’s apartment.

Some of them had been written on by the pope himself with words like “To be destroyed,” for example. Now, these documents, the butler admits he leaked to an Italian journalist, and they appeared in a book earlier this year which caused a bit of discomfort for the Vatican, because inside those documents there were allegations of improper business dealings and of rivalries between cardinals.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, tell us a little bit more about that, because the butler says he did it. But he also says he did it to expose corruption. So, what kind of corruption? What are we talking about?

NAOMI O’LEARY: The documents that he slipped were of — as I say, of a sensitive nature.

Some of them had to do with contracts and the way in which the Vatican ordered contracts for infrastructure, for example. Now, an archbishop wrote to the pope raising concerns about these improper business dealings. And one — his letter to the pope was among the documents that was slipped to the journalist. So that was one of them.

And we also know that this archbishop was subsequently posted to Washington against his wishes. So this points to disagreements and some uncomfortable truths for the Vatican, from what we know from testimony.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, do we know if anybody is behind the butler, sort of putting him up to it, or who’s behind the leaks that are damaging the Vatican?

NAOMI O’LEARY: Going by testimony, the butler has said that he had no direct accomplices, although he does say that he was inspired by people within the Vatican and by a general sense of malaise, as he describes it.

Now, commentators have said that he — he may have been working with others, but that’s I think speculation. Going by testimony, he says he was working alone.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is it a power play here, or is this about who controls certain pieces or what goes on at the Vatican?

NAOMI O’LEARY: It was embarrassing for the Vatican for these documents to come out at the time that they did, which was, of course, at a time when the Vatican was seeking to distance itself from a series of scandals, including child sex abuse cases and scandals involving its bank.

So this was certainly an uncomfortable event for them.

JEFFREY BROWN: You know, this sort of hearkens back to, I don’t know, renaissance intrigues or the stuff of movies or television programs that we might have all looked at from the distant past, but how unusual is something like this, this kind of intrigue in the modern Vatican?

NAOMI O’LEARY: The Vatican, as I said, has tried to distance itself. It has faced a series of scandals are but none of them has involved someone who was so physically close to the pope himself.

This was a man who served the pope meals, who helped him dress and who rode in the front see of the Popemobile at official functions. So, this was a man from the inner chambers of the Vatican.

JEFFREY BROWN: And one last thing, Naomi. Has the pope himself said anything about all this?

NAOMI O’LEARY: The pope has so far been — kept pretty silent on the matter.

He — the butler has asked for his forgiveness and expressed his remorse at betraying the pope, as he put it, although he did say that what — he considered what he did not to be a crime. Now, some people have speculated, some commentators have said that were the butler to be handed down a sentence, the pope could come out and pardon him.

But, again, that remains to be seen. And it’s likely — we’re likely to hear the outcome of the trial on Saturday, which is the final day when judges are expected to deliver their verdict and offer a sentence.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Naomi O’Leary of Reuters in Rome, thanks so much.