May 26, 2012 — Benedict Alone

Tomorrow, Sunday, May 27, is the Feast of Pentecost. Some in Rome expect Pope Benedict to use the occasion to issue a decision on the Society of St. Pius X (the traditional Catholic followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.) If such a decision is issued, it will be an historic day for the Church; if a decision is not issued, it is expected in the near future.

Meanwhile, many of you will have heard that the Vatican, after weeks of investigation, has discovered at least one source of a flood of secret Vatican documents that have been published in recent months in Italy.

The Vatican has placed under arrest and is questioning an Italian layman, Paolo Gabriele, 46, as a key suspect in the case. (He is seated in front of the Pope and his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, in the Pope’s “popemobile” in the photo below.)

Gabriele is an assistant to the papal chamberlain (called the “Camerlengo,” currently Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State) and as such, is the equivalent of the “Pope’s butler” — and so, as in a mystery novel, it appears that “the butler did it.”

Gabriele has been physically close to the Pope for years. Originally hired under the pontificate of John Paul II — on the recommendation, it is said, of the rector of the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, a few steps from the Vatican, a church dedicated to the devotion of Divine Mercy of St. Faustina Kowalska — for five years he has helped to vest Pope Benedict each morning, serve him his food at lunch and dinner, and prepare his sleeping quarters each night. Because he has carried out such a trusted, and delicate, role, he had in his possession all the keys to the papal apartments, entrances and elevators.

So he would have had the access, which only a handful of people have, enabling him to steal private documents from the Pope’s own desk.

The number of people who have access to the Pope’s private study is very limited, and includes his butler and his two personal secretaries, Monsignors Georg Gaenswein and Alfred Xuereb.

Still, as Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli writes, “doubts are growing in the Holy See” that Gabriele acted alone.

Tornielli writes: “The Vatican Gendarmerie found a large wad of confidential documents in an apartment in Via di Porta Angelica, in Rome, where the Pope’s butler Paolo Gabriele lives with his wife and three children. This just-over 40-year-old man from Rome has been working in the Pope’s apartment since 2006, entering the Pope’s Family after a period serving Mgr. James Harvey, Prefect of the Papal Household. But is he really a poison pen letter writer or just a scapegoat to save the skin of someone higher up? This is the question many in the Vatican are asking… The butler is in fact considered by many in the Holy See as a simple, good person who is devoted to the Pope.”

In this same vein were remarks yesterday by the Pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J.

“Everyone in the Vatican knows him, there is a feeling of surprise and grief, as well as great sympathy for his family, who are well-liked,” Father Lombardi told journalists. “We hope that his family can get over this ordeal.”

Gabriele faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail if convicted.

La Stampa newspaper yesterday quoted an anonymous priest, who it said had once been Gabriele’s confessor, as expressing strong doubts about the butler’s guilt.

“He loves the Pope so much that he would never betray him,” the priest said. “I have known Paolo for years… I have accompanied him spiritually and I can state that I found him a person who loves the Church and is very devoted to the Popes, John Paul II to begin with and now Benedict XVI. What is going on is incomprehensible to me because everyone in the Vatican held Paolo in high esteem. I never heard anyone speak ill of him or any gossip about him, which is rare because in our environment you often hear slander.”

Italian media said that the Pope was “saddened and shocked” by this “painful case.”

Last month, the Pope set up a special commission of three senior cardinals — Julian Herranz, Joseph Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi — to probe the leaks of private documents to the Italian media, to the embarrassment of the Holy See. (Note: If Church officials fear their letters to the Pope may end up on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, then they may think twice before writing openly and truthfully to the Pope; the loss to the Church in such a case is very serious.)

This arrest is the first public result of the special investigation, which is ongoing.

There is almost certainly more to this story than has yet come to light. One Italian report suggested that, though many here regard Gabriele very highly, there is conjecture that he might be a “hothead” or fanatic (“esaltato” is the Italian word used) desirous of “taking justice into his own hands.” If this were so, the article suggests, there might have been a risk of harm to the Pope himself.

Here is the sentence in Italian: “Ma se sulla volonta’ di colpire il vertice della Chiesa sembra ci siano pochi dubbi, qualcun altro azzarda che il maggiordomo fosse un esaltato, mosso da furore giustizialista. E dunque il Papa era esposto anche a altri piu’ gravi rischi.” (Link:

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