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Butler's Arrest Latest Embarrassment For Vatican

Vatican authorities have charged Pope Benedict XVI's butler with illegally possessing secret documents. His arrest is the latest embarrassment for the Vatican. David Greene talks to NPR's Sylvia Poggioli for the latest on the investigation.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

To Europe now. It has been one tumultuous week for the Roman Catholic Church. A new book came out alleging corruption and mismanagement at the Holy See. The Vatican's bank president was ousted, and then over the weekend, the Vatican revealed that the Pope's own butler had been arrested and charged with stealing and leaking sensitive documents to the media. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us to discuss what's been going on. And Sylvia, good morning.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So, this scandal, it's already being called VatiLeaks. What is it all about? Remind us what's happening.

POGGIOLI: Well, it started in January with embarrassing leaks on TV and in print of highly sensitive documents, including private letters sent to the pope alleging corruption and financial mismanagement in the Vatican. The Vatican cried foul and vowed to track down the mole. But it never denied the authenticity of the documents.

And last week, a book called "Your Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI" by Gianluigi Nuzzi came out. Nuzzi says his sources are devout people who want to expose corruption. They describe the Vatican in the grips of sordid internal struggles for power, influence and money. During the twilight of the 85-year-old pope's reign, he's described as very weak and fragile. One veteran Vatican watched described Benedict in Shakespearian terms, like an impotent King Lear unable to control his unruly court.

GREENE: That is not a comparison the Vatican is going to like. Well, Sylvia, just to be clear, we're talking about sensitive documents. I mean, the Vatican is considered like a head of state. I mean, so this would be the equivalent of leaking classified material from the White House.

POGGIOLI: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's what it is. It's terribly embarrassing, and it comes after a series of many mishaps in this papacy.

GREENE: So, the butler - I mean, this is making it sound like it's some sort of mystery novel, a whodunit. I mean, who is this man?

POGGIOLI: Well, his name is Paolo Gabriele, known as Paolito, Little Paolo. He's a 46-year-old layman. He's married, with two children. Friends describe him as devout, mild-mannered and unable to conspire against the pope. But Vatican investigators claim they found large quantities of documents and photocopying equipment in Gabriele's apartment. If tried and convicted, he could face up to 30 years in jail. But most analysts believe he may have passed the papers, but was not the mastermind.

GREENE: And Sylvia, these leaks have clearly created a lot of turbulence at the Vatican. I mean, is the Pope the target here?

POGGIOLI: Well, analysts say no. They say the main target is the pope's right-hand man and his close ally, the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. And the sources of the leaks are said to be prelates who strongly oppose Bertone, whom they blame for many of the crises that have plagued this papacy. Now, Machiavellian power struggles within the Vatican are the stuff of history. What's strange is how they're playing out this time.

The Vatican is a place where orders are given in hushed whispers, sometimes by lifting an eyebrow or pursing the lips. This tiny, walled city-state is not accustomed to such vocal and public displays of rivalries and power games. One church historian said the Roman Curia, the Vatican government, has always been a nest of vipers. Another historian said we're witnessing an orgy of vendettas that have spun out of control.

GREENE: A difficult week for the Vatican. That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Sylvia, thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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