Pope’s private assistant arrested in ‘VatiLeaks’ probe

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The dome of St. Peter's Basilica is seen at sunset at the Vatican Sept. 16, 2010. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed that Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s private assistant, was arrested after private Vatican documents were found in his possession in connection to the so-called “VatiLeaks” scandal that began in January.

Father Lombardi said Gabriele was arrested the evening of May 23 by Vatican police after they found the illegally obtained documents in his home, which is on Vatican territory. He was still under arrest as May 26, the day the Vatican statement was issued. The dark-haired assistant can often be seen with the pope sitting in the front seat of the popemobile, next to the driver during papal general audiences on Wednesdays.

The spokesman said Vatican judge Nicola Picardi has completed “the first phase” of a preliminary investigation and Vatican judge Piero Antonio Bonnet has begun the next step of the inquiry.

Father Lombardi said May 25 that Gabriele, then unnamed by the Vatican, had been questioned by Vatican judges in order to obtain further information.

Gabriele has named two lawyers to represent him during the Vatican investigation and he has already had a chance to meet with them, Father Lombardi said.

The investigation will continue until enough evidence has been collected and then Judge Bonnet will either call Gabriele to stand trial or be acquitted, he said.

A committee of three cardinals Pope Benedict XVI appointed in April to look into the leaks had asked the gendarmes to investigate.

Dozens of private letters to Pope Benedict and other confidential Vatican correspondence and reports, including encrypted cables from Vatican embassies around the world, were leaked to an Italian journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi. He published the documents in a book, “Your Holiness,” released May 17.

In a statement two days later, Father Lombardi called the publication of the letters for commercial gain a “criminal act” and said the Vatican would take legal action. The publication, he said, violated the right to privacy and the “freedom of correspondence” of Pope Benedict, the letter writers and the pope’s closest collaborators.

In the book’s introduction, Nuzzi said his main source for the texts told him he was acting with a “small group” of Vatican insiders concerned about corruption and a thirst for power within the Vatican. According to his source, Nuzzi said, none of the people giving him documents knew who the others were.

—By Carol Glatz and Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

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