VATICAN CITY – The Vatican's No. 2 official on Monday blamed the media — and the devil — for fueling the scandal over leaked Vatican documents.
Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told an Italian Catholic weekly that journalists reporting on the leaks scandal are "pretending to be Dan Brown ... inventing stories and replaying legends." The reference to Brown is particularly acute; Brown wrote "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons" the best-selling fictional accounts of power struggles and scandals inside the Catholic Church.
The Vatican has been on the defensive ever since sensitive documents alleging corruption and exposing power struggles began appearing in the Italian media in January. A recent book containing dozens of documents from Pope Benedict XVI's own desk has compounded what many see as a plot to undermine Bertone's authority.
Several top Vatican officials have castigated the media for fueling the scandal, and to be sure Italian newspapers in particular have been on a feeding frenzy reporting details of the Vatican's investigation into the leaks that the Vatican spokesman routinely shoots down.
Pope Benedict XVI himself has complained about media reports that "went well beyond the facts, offering an image of the Holy See that doesn't correspond to reality."
But Bertone's interview with Famiglia Cristiana took the complaints to a new level, blasting the "vehemence" of some Italian newspapers in seeking to create divisions between the pope and his collaborators where there weren't any.
"The truth is that there's a will to create division that comes from the devil," he said. The interview is due on newsstands Thursday but was made available to journalists Monday.
Bertone admitted the Holy See isn't perfect and that "none of us wants to hide the church's shadows and defects." But he said the Italian media in particular had gone too far, violating the privacy rights of both the pope and the people who correspond with him by publishing leaked documents.
Contrary to media reports depicting factions opposed to him within the Vatican bureaucracy, Bertone said he enjoys "an extraordinary climate of communion" with his colleagues. "Personally, I don't sense any sign of cardinals or church personalities being involved in any conquest of some phantom power," he said.
So far only one person has been arrested in the case: the pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, a 46-year-old father of three who was arrested May 23 and accused of aggravated theft after reams of papal documents were found in his Vatican City apartment.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Monday that a commission of cardinals investigating the leaks scandal had so far interrogated 23 people, including Gabriele as well as other lay and clergy, Vatican superiors and employees. The commission members reported back to the pope on Saturday about their investigation and are continuing their work.
Gabriele continues to be held inside the Vatican police barracks accused of aggravated theft, though he was allowed out on Sunday as usual to attend Mass with his family.
The attempt by the Vatican to blame the media for the leaks is to some degrees a repeat of 2010, when several Vatican officials blamed journalists for fueling the sex abuse scandal that had re-ignited that year. Thousands of people came forward, mostly in Europe, with reports that priests had raped and molested them when they were children.
Eventually, Benedict himself put the blame-game to rest when he admitted that the abuse was "born from the sins within the church," not from the media.
The leaks scandal broke in January when Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi revealed letters from a former top Vatican administrator who begged the pope not to transfer him for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of euros (dollars) in higher contract prices. The prelate was transferred and 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 and differences of opinion inside the Vatican over its efforts to show greater financial transparency and comply with international norms to fight money laundering.
The scandal reached a peak last month 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 painted Bertone in a negative light.
Lombardi was asked Monday about the campaign to blame journalists for reporting on documents that someone inside the Vatican chose to leak. Lombardi said that he didn't want to make any "general condemnation" but that in such tense times, objectivity and fact-checking seem to have fallen by the wayside.
While ruling out power struggles per se, he did admit there have been "strong tensions" of late, particularly concerning the harsh ouster of the president of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. He was fired after the bank's board accused him of failing to do his job and leaking documents. Subsequently a letter from a psychotherapist working for the bank was leaked in which the doctor expressed concerns about Gotti Tedeschi's mental health.
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