Sex, Lies & Dossiers: The Vatican at the Crossroads

April 2013

It has been difficult for many to accept at face value the reasons for Benedict XVI’s papal renunciation. Though our present Pope Emeritus cited declining health and strength, Church-watchers buoyed by the international news media looked to point at something a little more salacious than just a frail man’s failing health in order to explain this virtually unprecedented and unexpected turn of events in Rome. Though there is no solid evidence that Benedict’s renunciation stemmed from anything but his health problems, the media found no shortage of prurient material in the days leading up to the conclave.

Much of this material can be traced back in one way or another to last year’s curious VatiLeaks scandal, wherein the Pope’s butler was convicted of leaking sensitive papal documents to the media. As with the global sex-abuse scandals, we waited for journalists to uncover the story beneath the story — and uncover it they did.

Jason Horowitz, writing for the Washington Post (Feb. 16), laid the groundwork for what would explode into a full-blown media frenzy by giving an account of last year’s Vatican intrigue, taken, he says, from “interviews in Rome with dozens of church officials, Vatican insiders and foreign government officials close to the church.” By way of explaining VatiLeaks, Horowitz relates the back­story of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Secretary General of the Vatican City Governatorate since 2009, Viganò hoped to “enact a series of reforms within the Vatican.” But, says Horowitz, “some of Rome’s highest-ranking cardinals undercut the efforts and hastened Viganò’s exile to the United States.”

Paolo Gabriele, papal butler, apparently became deeply upset by the contents of the Pope’s personal correspondence, including letters from Viganò. Horowitz describes the letters as “fleshing out how Viganò, an ambitious enforcer of Benedict’s good government reforms, had earned powerful enemies.” In 2011 “hostile anonymous articles attacking Viganò began appearing in the Italian media,” and so Viganò appealed to Secretary of State Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, who in turn relieved the archbishop of his duties. Gabriele was privy to all the back-and-forth, including Viganò at one point writing to Ber­tone, “accusing him of getting in the way of the pope’s reform mission.” Viganò also sent a copy of this letter to Benedict, and in a separate letter directly referenced corruption. Viganò knew he was being pushed out — and he tried to push back. “My transfer right now,” he wrote, “would provoke much disorientation and discouragement in those who have believed it was possible to clean up so many situations of corruption and abuse of power that have been rooted in the management of so many [Vati­can] departments.” Some of the situations of corruption he described in other letters consisted of awarding Vatican contracts at “double the cost” charged outside the Vatican — the sort of government corruption commonly seen around the globe (including in the U.S.). In the end, “Viganò’s efforts failed, and he was soon dispatched to Washington.” His “exile” amounted to being appointed ambassador to the U.S., which to the untrained eye might look like a cushy promotion. Meanwhile, butler Gabriele decided to spill the beans. He passed documents to Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian investigative reporter, who used them to write a bestselling book.


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New Oxford Notes: April 2013

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