VATICAN CITY – The biggest scandal to rock the Vatican in decades widened Monday with the pope's butler, arrested for allegedly having confidential documents in his home, agreeing to cooperate with investigators — raising the specter that higher-ranking ecclesial heads may soon roll.
Few believe butler Paolo Gabriele worked alone to leak dozens of documents shedding light on power struggles, corruption and intrigue inside the highest levels of the Catholic Church. The leaks have tormented the Vatican for months and painted a picture of a church hierarchy in utter disarray.
Gabriele, the pope's personal butler since 2006, was arrested Wednesday evening after Holy See documents were found inside his Vatican City apartment, adding an unfathomable Hollywood twist to the already sordid Vatileaks scandal. He remains in custody in a Vatican detention facility, accused of theft, and has met with his wife and lawyers.
Gabriele's lawyer, Carlo Fusco, said Monday his client was "very serene and calm," despite the whirlwind of speculation surrounding his arrest. He said Gabriele himself had told the Vatican judge investigating the case that he would "respond to all the questions and will collaborate with investigators to ascertain the truth."
Italian media reported Monday that a cardinal is suspected of playing a major role in the scandal. However, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, denied the reports categorically. He said many Vatican officials were being questioned but insisted "there is no cardinal under suspicion."
But Lombardi acknowledged that the investigation continues.
And on Monday, Italian daily La Repubblica published a rambling interview with what it described as another Vatican "mole," someone who described the various agendas at play behind the leaks.
The unnamed leaker said the aim was to show how weak Pope Benedict XVI is, the fears of his secretary of state, and to make clear that the "fundamental role of the church is to defend the Gospel, not accumulate power and money."
Lombardi dismissed as "pure fantasy" such a rash of unsourced reports about the investigation in the Italian media, which have been on a frenzy ever since reports of Gabriele's detention emerged Friday.
Gabriele, a 46-year-old father of three, was always considered extremely loyal to Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II, for whom he briefly served. Vatican insiders have said they were baffled by his alleged involvement, and Lombardi said Monday that the entire scandal has caused pain throughout the Vatican.
Benedict, who in March appointed a commission of cardinals to investigate the leaks, was being kept informed of developments and is "aware of the delicate situation that the Roman curia is going through," Lombardi said.
He acknowledged the "negative image" of the Vatican that was emerging from the scandal but said the developments made it ever more important to "reestablish a climate of clarity, truth, transparency and trust as soon as possible."
The Vatileaks scandal broke in January when Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi broadcast letters from the former No. 2 Vatican administrator to the pope in which he begged not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of euros in higher contract prices. The prelate, Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano, is now the Vatican's U.S. ambassador.
The scandal widened over the following months with documents leaked to Italian journalists that laid bare power struggles inside the Vatican over its efforts to show greater financial transparency and comply with international norms to fight money laundering. There was even a leak of a memo claiming that Benedict would die this year.
The scandal reached a peak last weekend, when Nuzzi published an entire book based on a trove of new documentation, including personal correspondence to and from the pope and his private secretary, much of which paints Benedict's No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in a negative light.
Vito Mancuso, an Italian theologian, told reporters at a press launch of the book "His Holiness" that the documents, many of which point to Bertone's involvement in scandals that have afflicted the papacy, all appeared aimed at providing evidence for why he should resign.
"Looking at the documents in succession, it seems like you're seeing a series of bullets aimed at hitting Bertone," Mancuso said.
Bertone, 77, was Benedict's loyal No. 2 at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before being named secretary of state. With no diplomatic or broad administrative experience coming into the job, he has earned not a few critics inside the Vatican bureaucracy.
The Vatican probe into the leaks is actually working on several tracks: Vatican magistrates are pursuing the criminal investigation, and Gabriele was arrested as part of that. The Vatican secretariat of state is pursuing an administrative probe. And the three cardinals appointed by Benedict are acting in a sort of supervisory role, looking beyond the narrow criminal scope of the leaks to interview broadly across the Vatican bureaucracy, Lombardi said.
They report directly to the pope and can both share information with Vatican prosecutors and receive information from them, Lombardi said.
The group is headed by Cardinal Julian Herranz, an Opus Dei prelate who headed the Vatican's legal office as well as the disciplinary commission of the Vatican bureaucracy before retiring.
Gabriele's arrest occurred almost simultaneously with another stunning development inside the secretive walls of the Vatican: the ouster of Benedict's hand-picked president of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, himself close to Opus. The bank's board took a vote of no-confidence last week to oust him for failing to do his job.
Bank board member Carl Anderson told The Associated Press that the ouster had no political undertones and that the board wasn't taking cues from Bertone. He said it was purely a business decision since Gotti Tedeschi had become an obstacle to the bank's efforts to be more transparent in its financial dealings. Gotti Tedeschi hasn't responded to the accusations.
The chaos of the scandal came amid new developments in one of the Vatican's most enduring mysteries, the case of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee who disappeared in 1983 while on her way to a music lesson in Rome.
On Sunday, Orlandi's brother led a march to the Vatican in hope that Benedict would offer them a prayer following the unearthing of the tomb of a mobster alleged to have kidnapped her. The crypt, inside an Opus Dei church in Rome, yielded hundreds of old bone fragments that are being examined for a trace of the girl.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield