Vatican cries blackmail as mole threatens further leaks
THE Vatican said yesterday it was being blackmailed by the leaking of confidential documents taken from the Pope's private apartment as an anonymous mole threatened to release more embarrassing material unless two senior officials are sacked.
In the latest round of leaks, an Italian newspaper was sent three letters apparently stolen from the Vatican, two of which were signed by the Pope's private secretary and had their contents blanked out.
An anonymous note claimed they dealt with "shameful events inside the Vatican" and threatened to reveal the contents of the letters "if there is an attempt to hide the truth of the facts".
The accompanying letter called for the resignation of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone -- who as secretary of state is the Vatican's de facto prime minister -- and Mgr Georg Ganswein, the Pope's secretary. It claimed that Paolo Gabriele, the butler arrested over the affair, was simply a scapegoat.
Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the note represented "a grave threat" to Benedict XVI's seven-year papacy.
"Blackmail is a plausible way of defining it," he said. "We have arrived at a situation of blackmail threats."
Vatican prosecutors were questioning Mr Gabriele for the second day yesterday. He has been accused of stealing the papers. Fr Lombardi said reports in several newspapers that two cardinals were part of a network of moles who stole and leaked compromising documents were "without foundation".
He insisted that, for the moment, the butler was the only person being investigated in the scandal, which has provided a rare glimpse into high-level feuds and jockeying for power within the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Many of the leaked documents appeared to be aimed at discrediting Cardinal Bertone, the Pope's deputy, and toppling him from power.
Mr Gabriele (46) was arrested two weeks ago after investigators allegedly found a cache of stolen papers in his Vatican apartment. If found guilty of theft, he would lose the apartment and could be "exiled" from the Holy See, the Italian press reported.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti spoke about the scandal for the first time, saying he was sorry for the pain it had caused the 85-year-old German Pontiff.
"I am surprised and profoundly saddened by what I've read of the Vatican affair," Mr Monti told 'Famiglia Cristiana', a Catholic magazine. "But I also think about the very deep pain many people are suffering, and of the pain that it has caused to the heart of the Holy Father."
Many of the leaked documents were published last month in a book entitled 'His Holiness -- The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI', which has become a bestseller. (© Daily Telegraph, London)