Vatican police have arrested Pope Benedict XVI’s personal butler following an investigation into the leaking of sensitive church documents, it emerged today.
In a scenes worthy of a Dan Brown thriller, the butler identified as Paolo Gabriele, 46, was held by gendarmes after a special commission of three top senior cardinals had been appointed by a furious Pope Benedict to identify the source of the leaks which have caused severe embarrassment.
Gabriele, who has been at the Pope’s side for six years, is one of the German born pontiff’s closest members of his inner circle which totals just four lay people and four nuns and he is always at his side – he is so close that he and the nuns who look after him are described as the ‘pontiff’s family’.
The Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele (bottom L) has been at the Pope’s (right) side for six years. He has been arrested on suspicion of leaking internal documents
It is believed that Gabriele, who is known by the nickname Paoletto (little Paul) was held as he arrived for work at the Papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace behind St Peter’s and tonight he was being held in custody – the first time in years the Vatican jail had been used.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said a man had been detained with ‘documents in his possession’ adding that he was not supposed to have them and he went on to describe him as ‘a lay person and not a member of the clergy’.
The arrest of Gabriele comes just days after author Gianluigi Nuzzi published a book on the leaked documents called Sua Santita (His Holiness).
The Vatican had condemned the book as ‘criminal’ and the printing of the documents were a violation of the Pope’s privacy it said.
The Vatican said it has arrested a man caught in possession of secret documents in a bid to crack down on the source of the leak scandal
Nuzzi hit back and said that the files were not private and were documents between states and he added they had been given to him by people who work inside the Vatican and in a reference to the Bible, he said the sources wanted to ‘get the moneylenders out of the temple’.
Today’s arrest came just a month after Pope Benedict turned detective and appointed a special commission to investigate the series of damning and embarrassing leaks of sensitive Catholic Church documents from the Vatican as it still tries to recover from the priest sex abuse scandal.
Dozens of documents including private letters to the Pope have found themselves into the hands of the Italian media in what has been dubbed, unsurprisingly, Vatileaks.
The documents show how contracts were awarded to favoured companies and individuals and also highlight allegations of internal power struggles with the Vatican’s bank known as the Institute for Religious Works.
Dozens of documents including private letters to the Pope, right, have found themselves into the hands of the Italian media in what has been dubbed Vatileaks
By coincidence on Thursday the head of the bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who is already under investigation for money laundering resigned after a vote of no confidence and initially there were rumours that he was the person responsible for the leak of documents.
The scandal began in January with the publication of leaked letters from the former deputy governor of the Vatican City archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, in which he pleaded not to be transferred after he had exposed what he said was corruption over the awarding of contracts.
Archbishop Vigano was deputy governor from 2009 until last year when he was moved to Washington DC to be papal nuncio in the United States. He had written to the Pope protesting the fact adding that it would bring an end to his efforts to ‘clean up’ the Vatican.
Earlier this year there was even a report leaked which claimed a plot to assassinate Pope Benedict had been uncovered although this was dismissed as “absurd” by Father Lombardi who threatened to take legal action against the TV station that screened the documents.
The Pope was said to be ‘shocked and saddened’ at the constant leaks and it led to him appointing the cardinal commission which worked with the Vatican gendarmes and lead to the arrest.
Paolo Rodari, an expert on Vatican affairs with newspaper Il Foglio,believes Paolo Gabriele, pictured, has been made a scapegoat
Vatican prosecutor Nicola Picardi was questioning Gabriele and the news was dominating Italian media with many describing the arrest as an ‘earthquake within the Holy Sea’ although some questioned if he was perhaps being made a scapegoat.
Sources said that sensitive Vatican documents had been recovered from father of three Gabriele’s home inside the Vatican.
But Paolo Rodari, an expert on Vatican affairs with newspaper Il Foglio, was sceptical of his involvement and said: ‘I know Gabriele. He is a nice guy but I don’t think he would be behind this. I think he may have been imprudent and taken the odd document home but he is not the main person.
‘If you ask me he has been made a scapegoat just to satisfy the media. The documents found at his house were from the Pope’s personal correspondence but a lot of the leaked documents have come from the Secretary of State’s office and he would not have had access to those.
‘This is all part of a plot to discredit Pope Benedict and Cardinal (Tarcisio) Bertone (Secretary of State) and I think it has been ordered by senior figures from within the Curia who may have exploited Gabriele but I personally don’t think he is the driving force behind Vatileaks.’
A Vatican spokesman added that the Vatican did have cells but said he had ‘no idea when they were last used’