Vatican vipers coiled around a mess of leaks and gay smears


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The Independent Online

The Vatican has long been said by those who know it to be a nest of vipers. But recently, the poison has been laid bare for everyone to see as a slew of leaks have revealed an institution at war with itself.

Already this year we've read about documents warning of a "death threat" against the Pope, widespread nepotism and corruption, exiled whistle-blowers, gay smear campaigns and embarrassing revelations about the Vatican's tax affairs. Most of the damaging of the "Vatileaks" were revealed by the reporter Gianluigi Nuzzi in a series of TV programmes and now his new book "Sua Santità" (Your Holiness).

Last month, the Holy See set out to catch the mole or moles behind the leaks. The Pope's butler has already been nabbed in possession of some of the confidential papers. But few think he acted alone. Yesterday, we learnt that an unnamed Italian cardinal is now a suspect. But even if all the leakers are caught, few observers think that there's an end in sight for the PR disasters that have blighted the reign of 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI.

Unloved Benedict might reasonably claim his record is more virtuous than that of his PR-savvy predecessor, John Paul II. As Mr Nuzzi noted: "During the papacy of John Paul II, paedophilia was not pursued like it has been today. This Pope has removed 50 priests. John Paul II covered it up." The Vatican Insider failed to note, though, that key scandals – such as the London murder of Roberto "God's Banker" Calvi , which took place on John Paul II's watch – continue to taint the Vatican.

For Valerio Gigante, a vaticanologist at the Adista religious news website, the church is suffering a moral crisis.

"The contradiction at the heart of the church grows greater all the time. It exists for moral reasons but also generates huge amounts of money and is ever more occupied with political and economic power," he said.

Another Vatican watcher, Robert Mickens of The Tablet, says: "It's arrogance. The people in charge still think the Vatican is above ordinary laws."

The difficulty the Vatican faces in having to justify medieval attitudes in the era of inquisitive, 24-hour-a-day digital media is exacerbated by the fact that the two traditionalists in charge, Benedict and Bertone, are so disliked that they're unable to paper over the cracks. Indeed, Cardinal Bertone is usually seen as the common denominator in the endless in-fighting.

In consolidating power for himself and in placing close confidantes in key positions, Cardinal Bertone has made many enemies.

But despite the political poison and claims by respected observers such as Corriere della Sera's Massimo Franco that the leadership is suffering a "profound crisis of identity and credibility", few observers expect any immediate changes at the top. Earlier this year, an anonymous letter made the headlines for its warning of a death threat against the Pontiff.

Intriguingly, it also suggested that relations between the Cardinal and the Pope were falling apart. Not many people believe that. But even it were true, the pair have little choice but to support each other to the bitter end. The question is how low will the Vatican's reputation sink before that day arrives?