Pope Benedict XVI arrives at St. Peter's Square for his weekly general… (Andreas Solaro / AFP/Getty…)
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday spoke out for the first time about the turmoil over leaked Vatican documents, seeking to reassure the faithful that the church would weather the storm.
The pope, who acknowledged "sadness in my heart" one week after his personal butler was arrested by Vatican police and accused of stealing confidential papal correspondence, blamed the media for exaggerating "gratuitous rumors" and giving a distorted image of the Holy See.
He said he had no doubt that "despite the weakness of men, the difficulties and the trials," the church would always be guided on its path by the Holy Spirit.
Copies of the documents in question, which include private letters to the pope, have been dribbling into the public domain for several months in an unprecedented breach of Vatican secrecy. Documentation was included in a recently released book that was immediately criticized by Vatican officials as a grievous invasion of the pope's privacy.
The author, journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, casts his book as an expose made possible by the courage of a few whistle-blowers acting to save the integrity of the church and the pope from Vatican insiders with their own agendas.
The Vatican, through its press office, newspaper, and statements by officials, has concentrated its criticism on the intrusion of privacy and possibly illegal dissemination of private correspondence.
The sense of violation endured by the pope with the arrest of Paolo Gabriele, the butler who for six years had served as one of the closest people to him, was expressed by Archbishop Angelo Becciu, an official in the secretary of state's office. He said in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that the pope had suffered a "brutal" act with the theft of his private correspondence and that the publication was "an act of unprecedented gravity."
Vatican observers say the leaks expose the worst crisis of the Catholic Church in modern times and wonder whether the 85-year-old Benedict, now in the seventh year of his papacy, can rein in the conflicting forces within the Roman Curia.
According to many Italian Vaticanisti, or church watchers, there is a long list of events that indicate a weakness in leadership and long-simmering conflict within the Vatican that the so-called Vatileaks scandal is bringing to the surface.
They include the transfer, against his will, of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who was assigned by the pope to clean up the administration of day-to-day affairs in Vatican City. Vigano was deputy governor of Vatican City from 2009 to 2011.
The letters show that despite his protests that his efforts to eliminate corruption in Vatican purchasing would be thwarted, he was transferred in 2011 by Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone to head the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Washington. .
news media paint Bertone as being involved in many of the conflicts brought to light in recent events, including the unusually brusque dismissal of the president of the Vatican bank last week.
Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, a respected Italian banker, was brought in to head the Institute of Religious Works, or IOR, in its efforts to comply with stringent European rules on transparency in banking after years of murky dealings and scandals. A lay oversight commission unanimously gave him a vote of no confidence, saying among other things that he had not communicated with the board and hadn't lived up to his duties.
The vote triggered media speculation that Gotti Tedeschi had run afoul of Bertone on the transparency policy and other issues.
Newspapers have sought to find the corvi, or crows, the name given to anonymous tipsters, within the Vatican, speculating that several cardinals were part of a "network" that purposely leaked news so that change and reform could happen inside the closed Vatican system.
Meanwhile, the investigation continues on at least two levels: one carried out by the gendarmerie and headed by an investigating judge and another led by three cardinals that does not carry penal weight.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Wednesday that reports that cardinals had been implicated were not true. He said that many people were being questioned by both panels, but that no other arrests had been made.
Delaney is a special correspondent.