But the focus given to the question of the source of the leak diverted attention from the content of the documents which tell stories of dark rivalries, scandals and allegations of official corruption that characterized the inner working of the Holy See in the eight years of the papacy of Benedict XVI.
According to Jon Horowitz writing in The Washington Post
, VatiLeaks as the scandal came to be known, exposed an entrenched opposition in the church hierarchy to Benedict's efforts at reforming the system in the wake of corruption and sex scandals. The pope had installed Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano to implement a series of reforms within the Vatican. But some of Rome’s top cardinals moved to block the efforts and force Vigano’s "exile" to the United States.
The archbishop was appointed the Vatican ambassador to the US and sent packing to Washington.
The Washington Post
reports that the circumstances leading to his resignation show that Benedict XVI was a weak leader who was no match for the entrenched interests that dominated the internal politics of the Holy See with its system lacking in transparency, being dominated by institutional secrecy.
Benedict hinted at the problems in his final homily on Ash Wednesday: “We can reveal the face of the church and how this face is, at times, disfigured. I am thinking in particular of the sins against the unity of the church, of the divisions in the body of the church."
A senior Vatican official, however, said that a radical transformation of the culture of the church is unlikely. He said: “We’re talking about people who have given their life to this institution, but at the same time the institution has become their life. Unlike parish priests, who have the personal rewards that come with everyday contact, their lot is not as human. It’s bureaucratic, but it becomes all-consuming."
The leak of the pope's private correspondence came through his butler Paolo Gabriele. He leaked personal documents, including letters from Vigano, expressing his grievances about his "exile" to the US .
In the course of his normal official duties, Gabriele came across letters that gave details of the circumstances that led to Vigano acquiring powerful enemies in the Vatican. Articles attacking Vigano began appearing in the media after he took over the Pope's job of reform. When Vigano appealed to the Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, he got no sympathy, instead he was removed from his position
The events led to the series of letters from Vigano to the pope that passed through Gabriele's office. Vigano sent copies of his letters to the pope.
In one of the letters Vigano wrote to Bertone, he accused him of obstructing the pope's reforms and of breaking his promise to make him cardinal.
In another letter, Vigano wrote: "My transfer right now, 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 departments."
In other letters he spoke of pervasive corruption citing examples.
But in the end, he was removed from his office and sent into "exile" in Washington.
Horowitz reports that in a letter to the pope dated July 7, 2011, Vigano complained about his appointment as Vatican ambassador to the US: “In other circumstances such an appointment would be a reason for joy and a sign of great esteem and trust in my regard, but in the present context, it will be perceived by all as a verdict of condemnation of my work, and therefore as a punishment."
Vigano won the butler's sympathy. He decided to bring the issues and Vigano's discontent to the pope's attention through unofficial channels. Through intermediaries, he contacted Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian investigative reporter. The two had a number of secret meetings and an arrangement in which Gabriel passed documents to him. On one occasion, according to Horowitz
, Gabriele arrived at a scheduled meeting with 13 pages of documents taped to his back under his jacket.
Horowitz reports Nuzzi used the documents to write his highly controversial blockbuster, “His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Pope Benedict XVI."
The publication led to a hunt for the "mole" who leaked the documents. Investigations soon led to 82 boxes of documents in the butler’s apartment. Vatican authorities arrested him. He was tried, convicted and jailed for several months before the pope personally pardoned him.
Gabriele reportedly told Vatican investigators: “Seeing evil and corruption everywhere in the church, I finally reached a point of degeneration, a point of no return, and could no longer control myself.” He explained to investigators that he acted in the hope of sending a shock, "perhaps through the media," that would "bring the church back on the right track."
According to The Washington Post
, if the purpose was to force the the ouster of Tarcisio Bertone, it failed because he remained as powerful as ever following the leak scandal.
Benedict had appointed Bertone to the second most powerful position in the Vatican, that of the Secretary of State who oversees the day-to-day running of the Vatican.
Bertone proceeded immediately after his appointment to consolidate his power by appointing loyalists to key positions in the hierarchy as part of his effort to neutralize opponents within the system who felt he was an outsider unqualified for the position on the grounds of his experience.
Having amassed power, especially in his oversight functions with regard to the Vatican bank, he began using his authority to block the pope's reform efforts for greater financial transparency.
Horowitz alleges that the Vatican avoided addressing the issues raised by the leak scandal following Gabriele's trial. Instead it sought through Fox News and Twitter to burnish its outer image. The Vatican hired Gregory Burke, a Fox News reporter, to bring in a “common-sense journalistic view of how things are going to play out” to the church. Burke was hired to “help craft the message."
In December, the pope opened a Twitter account @pontifex. His Twitter followers went to 2,000 in 30 minutes and soon reached 1.5 million followers. The Twitter account was to be used by the pope to drop “pearls of wisdom."