To judge by the headlines, the Vatican seemed to be unraveling. In the middle of 2012, a series of leaked documents prompted Pope Benedict to launch an internal investigation. The documents were embarrassing, if not exactly incriminating; many dealt with the murky world of Vatican finances, while others revealed details of security operations, notes from private papal meetings and letters from high-profile Italian personalities seeking papal audiences–some with an enclosed check. In the eyes of top Vatican officials, the most scandalous aspect of what the press dubbed “Vatileaks” was not the content of the leaked material, but the fact that classified documents were being circulated at all.
As someone who has covered the Vatican for thirty years, I know that “Vatican secrecy” is largely a myth. More than three thousand people work in the Vatican’s administrative machine, and many of them will share information if given the opportunity. But such information is typically passed on through casual conversation, not purloined documents. It was that detail that made this scandal so unusual, and that led a triumvirate of investigating cardinals to aggressively pursue the culprits. The paper trail led rather easily to Paolo Gabriele, who as the pope’s valet was one of the few people with access to the daily flow of documents and out of the papal apartment. The father of three children, a devout Catholic who had worked since 1998 in the service of two popes, Gabriele seemed an unlikely Vatican mole. The universal assumption was that he was being manipulated by higher-ups. All of which, as explained more fully in this books’ final chapter, pointed to an increasingly open power struggle inside the Roman Curia.