Leaked Vatican documents stir controversy

In this picture made available by the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, an unidentified Cardinal puts ash on Pope Benedict XVI's head during the celebration of Ash Wednesday mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina, in Rome, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a solemn period of 40 days of prayer and self-denial leading up to Easter. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, Handout)

Leaks and conspiracy theories are crossing the tall walls of the Vatican, and the holy city is getting heavy press attention after reports of suspicions of money laundering at the Vatican’s bank, an ailing Pope Benedict XVI and internal conflict with his right-hand-man and Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The rumors come partially as a result of the Jan. 25 broadcast of private letters sent to Bertone and the Pope from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former deputy governor of Vatican City and currently the Vatican ambassador in Washington state.

The Vatican has claimed these letters are authentic.

William Thorn, an associate professor of journalism at Marquette, has worked for the Vatican on its official documents since the 1980s and was a professor of journalism at the Vatican’s Gregorian University until 2005. Thorn said the leaks are nothing more than history repeating itself.

“Benedict is not a young man anymore, and as his energy begins to decline with age, his grip on bureaucracy decreases and allows and encourages more maneuvering,” Thorn said.  “History is repeating itself — there is a lot of hype.”

The Rev. Edward Mathie, director of Campus Ministry, agreed.

“(For) any Catholic who has been around long enough, this is like ‘same old, same old,’” Mathie said. “The Church is made up of human beings and is a political animal as much as it is a human animal. We have to trust a little more in the Holy Spirit, not so much the human beings.”

Vigano’s letters exposed corruption in the Vatican and linked awarding of contracts to contractors at inflated prices after Bertone was chosen as secretary of state. Vigano was removed from his position three years before his tenure and was sent to the United States.

Marquette history professor the Rev. Steven Avella said Vigano was irritating too many people at the Vatican, regardless of his work on the Vatican City budget.

“He apparently was a budget hawk,” Avella said. “He wanted to become the head of Vatican State, and he must have ticked off people with his cost-cutting and budgeting.”

Anonymous sources in the Vatican who spoke to Reuters said the leaks are part of an internal campaign against Bertone and that the current tactics resemble that of former secretary of state and current Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a veteran diplomat who served under the late Pope John Paul II for approximately 15 years.

Avella said if Sodano is behind the leaks, Sodano’s tactics as secretary of state would make it surprising that he still holds a high position in the church.

“He has a history that is not very good,” Avella said. “It is rather amazing to me that he still has some power.”

Thorn said regardless of who is behind the allegations, the Vatican’s communication team is not as equipped in handling internal conflict as Pope John Paul II’s was.

“The way they are fighting is by releasing documents and targeting Bertone,” Thorn said. “You hear a lot of complaints. One of the ways you get back at the secretary of state is by releasing documents that trace back to failures.”

Regardless of who is behind the leaks, Thorn, Avella and Mathie think Bertone will keep his job and the church bureaucracy will be maintained.

“Bertone will keep his job unless there is something we don’t know that comes out that would compel his resignation,” Avella said. “He is likely to ride it out because they are not subject to the vagaries of public opinion like here in the United States.”

Thorn said he does not see the attempts at getting Bertone out of his position working.

“The notion of the Vatican being secretive is a crock,” he said. “People just need to remember it’s Jesus Christ that they worship, not the Vatican.”