A banker, a butler and a businessman: the strange goings on in Vatican City

Sat, May 26, 2012, 01:00

The reported arrest of the pope’s butler comes amid a week of drama at the Vatican, writes PADDY AGNEWin Rome

PERHAPS NOT since the days, 30 years ago, when the Vatican’s Bank, IOR, made all the worst possible headlines because of its heavy involvement in the downfall of Roberto Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano, have there been any developments in Vatican City quite as sensational as yesterday’s.

Widespread, insistent but officially unconfirmed media reports claimed the pope’s personal butler, Paolo Gabriele, had been arrested by the Vatican Gendarmerie, charged with having stolen private papers and documentation from the papal household.

Although the Vatican would not confirm the arrest of Mr Gabriele, senior spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi confirmed “a person illegally in possession of private documents has been arrested”.

The arrest appears to be the result of a Vatican Gendarmerie investigation into a series of embarrassing leaks of highly sensitive documentation from the papal household in recent months.

Intriguingly, the arrest comes just 24 hours after another complex row flared at the IOR bank, with the sacking on Thursday of its president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. That dismissal was brought about by a unanimous vote of no confidence in Gotti Tedeschi by the five-man lay board of IOR.

Ostensibly, Gotti Tedeschi was sacked because of his failure to fulfil “the primary functions of the bank”. In reality, it seems the board blamed the president for some of the recent media leaks concerning the bank. It argued that Gotti Tedeschi failed to do his job at a vital moment when IOR desperately needed to showcase its financial transparency, especially in relation to the Council of Europe’s anti-money-laundering regulations.

What remains unclear is the precise nature of the links, if any, between this week’s Vatican Bank crisis and yesterday’s arrest. Vatican insiders were yesterday tempted to conclude that the two issues simply had to be related, especially since the theft of the pope’s private documents appears to be central to both.

One huge question remains to be answered. The whole issue of “Vatileaks” has been a much discussed matter in recent months in the Vatican, leading to a Holy See investigation presided over by three very senior cardinals.

Furthermore, just one week ago, Gianluigi Nuzzi published the controversial book His Holiness, The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI, which contains 40 pages of photocopies of letters, faxes and confidential memos sent either to Pope Benedict or to his personal secretary, Georg Gänswein, between January 2010 and October 2011.

Vatican insiders were last night asking themselves how, in such a context, the butler Gabriele, who has been with the pope since 2006, would have decided to hide his illicit haul of papal documents in his own house, right under the noses of the Vatican Gendarmerie.

More than one Vatican insider is convinced Gabriele has in some way been framed and that, in reality, the person who leaked the pope’s documents is somebody else, much further up the Holy See chain.

Even more complex is the apparent link between Vatileaks and the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan.

When the Catholic hospital disclosed debts of €300 million in February 2011, being threatened with liquidation, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone called on IOR to step in and save the structure, run by controversial priest Don Verze.

Months later, Don Verze’s right-hand man, 35-year-old businessman Mario Cal, took his own life, apparently overwhelmed by the impending disaster at the hospital. IOR president Gotti Tedeschi took fright at this suicide and allegedly tried to disentangle IOR from the San Raffaele’s affairs, in the process straining his hitherto good relations with Cardinal Bertone.

Vatican insiders argue the San Raffaele business may hold the key to Gotti Tedeschi’s sacking this week, as well as to the arrest of the pope’s butler.

This one will run and run.