Vatican police have arrested Pope Benedict XVI’s personal butler following an investigation into the leaking of sensitive church documents.The butler, identified as Paolo Gabriele, 40, was held by gendarmes after a special commission of three top senior cardinals had been appointed by the Pope to identify the source of the leaks which have caused severe embarrassment.
Mr Gabriele, who has been at the Pope’s side for six years, is one of the German born pontiff’s closest members of his inner circle which totals just four lay people and four nuns and he is always at his side.
It is believed that Mr Gabriele, who is known by the nickname Paoletto (little Paul) was held as he arrived for work at the Papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace behind St Peter’s and on Friday he was being held in custody – the first time in years the Vatican jail had been used.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said a man had been detained with “documents in his possession” adding that he was not supposed to have them and he went on to describe him as “a lay person and not a member of the clergy”.
The arrest comes a month after Pope Benedict appointed a special commission to investigate the series of damning and embarrassing leaks of sensitive Catholic Church documents from the Vatican as it still tries to recover from the priest sex abuse scandal.
Dozens of documents including private letters to the Pope have found themselves into the hands of the Italian media in what has been dubbed Vatileaks, a play on the WikiLeaks website.
The documents show how contracts were awarded to favoured companies and individuals and also highlight allegations of internal power struggles with the Vatican’s bank known as the Institute for Religious Works.
By coincidence on Thursday the head of the bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who is already under investigation for money laundering resigned after a vote of no confidence and initially there were rumours that he was the person responsible for the leak of documents.
The scandal began in January with the publication of leaked letters from the former deputy governor of the Vatican City Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, in which he pleaded not to be transferred after he had exposed what he said was corruption over the awarding of contracts.
Archbishop Vigano was deputy governor from 2009 until las year when he was moved to Washington DC to be papal nuncio in the United States. He had written to the Pope protesting the fact adding that it would bring an end to his efforts to “clean up” the Vatican.
Earlier this year there was even a report leaked which claimed a plot to assassinate Pope Benedict had been uncovered although this was dismissed as “absurd” by Father Lombardi who threatened to take legal action against the TV station that screened the documents.
The Pope was said to be “shocked and saddened” at the constant leaks and it led to him appointing the three cardinal commission and who worked with the Vatican gendarmes which lead to the arrest.
Sources said that sensitive Vatican documents had been recovered from father of three Gabriele’s home inside the Vatican, but some have questioned if Mr Gabriele was perhaps being made a scapegoat.
Paolo Rodari, an expert on Vatican affairs, said: “I know Gabriele. He is a nice guy but I don’t think he would be behind this. I think he may have been imprudent and taken the odd document home but he is not the main person.”
“If you ask me he has been made a scapegoat just to satisfy the media. The documents found at his house were from the Pope’s personal correspondence but a lot of the leaked documents have come from the Secretary of State’s office and he would not have had access to those.”
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