Pope Benedict: Media exaggerating on leak scandal

Pope Benedict XVI attends a meeting at his private library May 28, 2012, in Vatican City. Vatican Pool via Getty Images

(AP) VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI says the scandal over leaked documents now rocking the Vatican has "saddened me in my heart" and that he wants to publicly express his trust in his closest advisers.

The pope made his first direct comments on the scandal during his weekly general audience Wednesday, saying "rumors in some media have been exaggerated in a gratuitous way" offering a false image of the Holy See.

He said he wants to "renew my trust and my encouragement to my closest" aides working in a "spirit of sacrifice" on a daily basis.

The Vatileaks scandal has tormented the Vatican for months and represents one of the greatest breaches of trust and security for the Holy See in recent memory. The pope's butler has been arrested after documents were found in his Vatican City apartment. Few think the butler acted alone and the investigation is continuing.

The butler, Paolo Gabriele, is due to be formally questioned in the coming days by Vatican prosecutors following his May 23 arrest, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. His lawyers reported that he had pledged to fully cooperate with the investigation to get to the truth, raising the specter that higher ranking prelates may soon be implicated.

The motivations for the leaks remain unclear: Some commentators say they appear designed to discredit Benedict's No. 2, the secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Others say they're aimed at undermining the Vatican's efforts to become more financially transparent. Still others say they aim to show the 85-year-old Benedict's weakness in running the church.

Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the Vatican's undersecretary of state, said the pope was particularly pained that someone so close to him had been arrested for behavior that was "unjustifiable under any pretext."

"Certainly, the pope feels pity for him," Becciu said. "But still, what has happened was brutal."

"When a Catholic speaks to the Roman pontiff, it's a duty to open yourself up as if you were before God, also because you feel complete guarantees of confidentiality," he said, trying to describe the significance of the leaks to the Vatican.

Lombardi said the scandal was grave enough that Benedict has established a commission of high-ranking cardinals to investigate alongside the criminal investigation and an internal administrative probe.

The cardinals' commission is headed by a heavyweight: Cardinal Julian Herranz, an Opus Dei prelate who headed the Vatican's legal office as well as the disciplinary commission of the Vatican bureaucracy before retiring.

In addition, the pope's personal bodyguard, Domenico Giani, a former Italian secret service agent, has been on something of a crusade tracking down the origin of the leaks in recent months, Vatican insiders report.

"We aren't afraid of the problems, the difficulties and also the errors and guilt that might come out," Lombardi told reporters Tuesday. "We are trying to do the right thing, following a difficult path of truth and taking the necessary measures to reestablish the trust and good functioning of the governance of the church and its institutions."

He said it certainly was a "difficult test" for the pope and his aides but that he hoped that the problems would be identified so that the Vatican can "enjoy the trust of the people God, which the pope certainly merits and we his collaborators must try to support."

The Vatileaks scandal broke in January when Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi broadcast letters from a former top Vatican administrator who begged the pope not to transfer him for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of dollars in higher contract prices. The prelate, Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano, is now the Vatican's U.S. ambassador.

The scandal widened over the following months with documents leaked to Italian journalists that laid bare power struggles inside the Vatican over its efforts to show greater financial transparency and comply with international norms to fight money laundering. There was even a leak of a memo claiming that Benedict would die this year.

The scandal reached a peak last weekend, when Nuzzi published an entire book based on a trove of new documentation, including personal correspondence to and from the pope and his private secretary, much of which paints Bertone in a negative light.

The Vatican has called the publication a "criminal act" and warned of legal action for those who stole, received and disseminated the documents. Nuzzi, who in 2009 published a book on leaked documents from the Vatican bank, has justified the publication as an act of transparency.

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