The Pope has condemned as "gratuitous" the media's coverage of a scandal involving the arrest of his butler on suspicion of stealing confidential Vatican documents.
In his first public comments on the affair, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in unusually forthright terms about the scandal, which has led to days of fevered speculation in the Italian press.
"Suggestions have multiplied, amplified by some media which are totally gratuitous and which have gone well beyond the facts, offering an image of the Holy See which does not correspond to reality," the Pope (85) said at the end of a general audience in St Peter's Square.
Many Vatican experts believe that the 46-year-old butler did not act alone, and that he may have been used simply as the courier of the stolen documents by more powerful figures.
The Pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested last week and is being held in "secure rooms" inside the Vatican by the city state's Gendarmerie.
His cell, and an attached bathroom, is under 24-hour camera surveillance.
He has agreed to co-operate fully with Vatican investigators, suggesting that he may implicate others in the scandal, possibly much more senior figures within the Catholic Church.
Vatican magistrates are reportedly collaborating with the Italian secret service in intercepting suspects' mobile phone calls and emails.
While Mr Gabriele is a Vatican citizen, other suspects are said to be Italians, meaning the Vatican would have no jurisdiction over them.
A specially appointed team of three cardinals, including one from the Opus Dei movement, is hunting for other moles within the Holy See in a scandal that has escalated into one of the worst crises of Benedict's seven-year papacy.
Many of the leaked papers reflect poorly on Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state and de facto "prime minister" of the Vatican, and there is speculation that disaffected cardinals unhappy with his style of governance are deliberately trying to discredit him. The Pope addressed the issue directly, denying that the Vatican was riven with jealousy and intrigue.
"I would like to renew my trust and my encouragement to my closest collaborators and all those who every day, with faith, a spirit of sacrifice and in silence, help me to perform my ministry," he said.
He told crowds in St Peter's Square that it was sometimes necessary to deal with "conflicts in human relations, often from within one's own family".
A German cardinal, who has known the Pope for decades, said he was "saddened" by the scandal over the confidential documents.
"He is saddened, naturally, but he is also calm because he has complete faith in the help that he is receiving from on high," Walter Brandmuller (83) told 'La Stampa'.
Catholics had also been pained by the scandal but now felt "closer than ever" to the Pope because they shared his anguish, Cardinal Brandmuller said.
While the majority of the Curia, the Vatican's administration, was loyal to the Pope, "unfortunately, one can never exclude that there could be cases of disloyalty," he said. (©Daily Telegraph London)