Is there something rotten in the Vatican court of Pope Benedict?

The ‘Vatileaks’ scandal has lifted the lid on a world of Catholic clerical intrigue and rivalry in the Holy See.

A British diplomat, sent as Her Majesty’s representative to the Holy See, once characterised the Vatican as being like a palace, floating adrift from the rest of the world. It is an image that has surfaced again this week with the extraordinary spectacle of the “Vatileaks” scandal, in which Pope Benedict XVI’s butler has been accused of passing stolen documents to the Italian press at the behest of senior clerics who want to discredit their rivals at the papal court.

Paolo Gabriele, a 46-year-old valet who has worked for Benedict since 2006, is being held in custody in “secure rooms” within the Vatican, the world’s smallest sovereign state at just 108 acres. As a Vatican citizen, one of only 600, he faces being dealt with by its own justice system rather than the courts in Rome, which surrounds this enclave. Not that the international boundary that cuts across Saint Peter’s Square has deterred the Italian press from working itself up into a frenzy. Among the revelations in the private documents are details of church tax problems, its handling of child sex abuse cases, and the on-going negotiations between Benedict and ultra traditionalist “Lefebvrists”, currently excommunicated from the Church, but whom the Pope wants to readmit to his flock, apparently at any price. More telling, though, is the picture the leaks paint of gossip and intrigue being the lingua franca of Benedict’s senior clerical courtiers, all plotting to gain an advantage over rivals behind their elderly boss’s back. If it sounds like murky machinations of the court of some medieval absolute monarch, then that is because it is precisely what it is, according to Robert Mickens, long-time Vatican-watcher and the Rome correspondent of the international Catholic weekly, the Tablet.

“The Roman curia, the Vatican’s bureaucracy, runs on a model that is hierarchical and designed to suit the needs of 600 years ago. Today it is simply anachronistic and detached from reality. It badly needs reform, but that is never going to happen when you have a system where all the senior figures are clerics, there are no women in prominent roles, and it is all about the pecking order and an absurd obsession with secrecy.”


Categories: Europe, Italy

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