Did the butler really do it?

No, seriously — it appears that the butler really did it, at least in the mystery of the Vatican leak case:

The Vatican confirmed Saturday that the pope’s butler had been arrested in its embarrassing leaks scandal, adding a Hollywood twist to an already remarkable tale of power struggles, intrigue and corruption in the highest levels of Catholic Church governance.

Paolo Gabriele, a layman who lives inside Vatican City, was arrested Wednesday with secret documents in his possession and was being held Saturday, the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

If so, the butler isn’t the only culprit.  The Vatican bank ousted its president for poor performance, but the Post reports that the termination is tied to the leaks as well.  The leaks involve controversial bank practices at the Vatican, which had been the target of reform efforts over the last several years.  While some of the documents apparently came from the bank, others were personal letters between Pope Benedict XVI and his staff, which would have meant inside-circle access.

The Vatican has already vowed to take legal action against an author of newly-released book, His Holiness, based in significant part on those leaks. The latest leaks seem intended to undermine Benedict’s closest aide, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, who currently serves as the Vatican’s Secretary of State.  We’ll see if they have that effect soon enough.  Supposedly, that is how the current Vatican ambassador to the US lost his previous job as a high-ranking administrator in the Vatican, at least according to the Post’s reporting.

As for Gabriele, it will be interesting to see what happens.  The Vatican exists as it own nation-state, and it has its own investigative force, the Corpo della Gendarmeria dello Stato della Città del Vaticano, which basically means the Vatican police (not the Swiss Guard). Vatican law does provide for judicial processes with a judge in a tribunal and an appeals court to handle disputes over trials — but the Supreme Pontiff has jurisdiction over all of these, of course, and it’s his letters that got purloined.

As Reuters notes, this is no joke — Gabriele could get 30 years in prison:

The 46-year-old Gabriele, facing up to 30 years in prison if convicted, lives in a comfortable apartment in the Vatican with his wife and three children, and is said by all who knew him to be very religious.

While Vatican employees do not receive large salaries, they do enjoy benefits such as low rent, no income tax, and cheap food and petrol at the commissaries of the 108-acre city-state.

On papal flights, the handsome, clean-cut Gabriele rarely came into the press section. When he did, he was polite to journalists but resisted any attempt to squeeze information out of him.

A priest who knows Gabriele told the newspaper La Stampa on Saturday that he was “a man of simplicity” who would not have been able to organise a campaign of leaks.

The conclusion to which armchair Columbos might leap is that Gabriele was a patsy in a power play.  That has all the attraction of any conspiracy theory, plus the added benefit of fitting into the few details we know about the leaks and the suspect.  I’d trust the investigators to determine what the actual facts and motives might be, but at some point we will hear from Gabriele, or at least his lawyer and his family, as to his side of the story.  As yet, of course, no one has proven anything about Gabriele’s involvement in the leaks, either.  What we do know is that Gabriele had better get a good lawyer, and his family probably needs to find another place to live.

One final point: This story will undoubtedly embarrass the Vatican and Catholics around the world.  It’s good to remember that Catholics make no claims on personal perfection — not even for the Pope; his infallibility is on doctrine only.  The men and women who work in vocations and lay offices for the Catholic Church in the Vatican and around the world are just as flawed and human as the rest of us, so keep them in prayer so that they can find the strength to overcome those universal frailties and be good stewards of the church. That goes for Paolo Gabriele, too, and especially for his family.

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