Rome Notebook: Vati-leaks, money, and 'it's good to be pope'

ROME -- On the Vatican leaks front, the figure widely presumed to be the major target of the scandal, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, has accused journalists covering the story of “playing at the imitation of Dan Brown,” inventing "fables and legends," but insisted that he has “the real church” on his side.

Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, also said he has “no signal” of “the involvement of cardinals” in the affair, and rejected that the leaks scandal reveals “struggles among ecclesiastical personalities for the conquest of a phantom power.”

Bertone spoke in an interview with Famiglia Christiana, a widely read newsweekly in Italy.

“The publication of a multiplicity of letters and documents sent to the Holy Father by persons who have a right to privacy constitutes, as we have affirmed several times, an immoral act of unprecedented gravity,” Bertone said.

"It’s an offense against a right which is explicitly recognized by the Italian constitution, which should be severely observed and enforced,” Bertone said.

On the recent firing of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi as head of the Institute for the Works of Religion, the so-called “Vatican Bank,” Bertone said a now-published report from the bank’s supervisory council, outlining the reasons for the move, “shows that his removal has nothing to do with internal doubts regarding the desire for transparency, but rather a deterioration of relations among the staff.”

"I renew my complete faith in the people responsible" for the Vatican Bank, Bertone said. "I invite [others] to share this faith, because the desire for transparency in the bank is undeniable."

After complaining about journalists who play at being Dan Brown, Bertone said: “I’m in the center of the scrum. I’m living this affair with sadness, but also constantly seeing the real church at my side.”

At another point, Bertone appeared to suggest that the leaks scandal may be an attempt to "destabilize" the church and the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

"The great project of clarification and purification of Benedict XVI ... certainly has bothered some people, and still does," Bertone said. "His action to eliminate episodes of pedophilia among the clergy, to cite just one example, has shown that the the church has a capacity of re-generation that other institutions and persons don't."

"The church is a rock that resists storms," Bertone said. "It's an unequivocal point of reference for countless persons and institutions throughout the world," he said, "and for this reason there's an effort to destabilize it."

Bertone also said he has received "countless letters from cardinals, bishops, and simple faithful expressing their soliarity".

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tIn the rest home where my 97-year-old Grandma now lives, the staff has a sort of news hour where they read the papers aloud for residents. The Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, has been hosting a news hour of his own since the outbreak of the Vati-leaks affair, only not to read the papers, but to deny what they print.

Jokingly, Lombardi this afternoon delivered what even he called the “denial of the day,” this time in regard to a report in an Italian newspaper this morning that the interrogation of the pope’s butler has surfaced various “senders and accomplices” involved in the leaks scandal, including “laity and prelates,” whose names could be made public “within the week.”

Lombardi described that report as “without foundation.”

When reporters pushed back, Lombardi insisted that he doesn’t know if there are indeed other “senders and accomplices,” and that both the Commission of Cardinals and the Vatican magistrate investigating the affair are doing so “without limits or prejudices” concerning the results.

“You want the conclusions before the results,” Lombardi told reporters, “and that’s not serious.”

When reporters asked Lombardi how Bertone could be sure that no cardinal is involved in the leaks affair if the investigation is indeed on-going and “without prejudice,” Lombardi suggested the gist of Bertone’s point is that he has “confidence in his collaborators,” seeing them as “honest and trustworthy people.”

Also, when a reporter asked Lombardi if the press can have access to the two lawyers currently advising Paolo Gabriele, the 46-year-old papal butler arrested in the affair, Lombardi said he has volunteered several times to help them respond to press inquiries, but as recently as this morning, he said, they’ve said they do not yet have “anything specific to communicate.”

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tOn another front, Lombardi was asked to response to a recent report in another Italian newspaper concerning an upcoming evaluation by Moneyval, the anti-money laundering agency of the Council of Europe, as to whether the Vatican qualifies for its “white list" on financial transparency.

The paper reported that the Vatican is likely to fail the test, drawing “unsatisfactory” ratings on eight out of sixteen criteria.

Lombardi said today that because Moneyval itself is “absolutely opposed to divulgation of its report” before it is discussed by its own assembly, it would be a “very great lack of correctness” for the Vatican to discuss its contents.

However, Lombardi did say that the report in the Italian newspaper was “not accurate” in “diverse aspects.”

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tFinally, from the “it’s good to be pope” files, people are always lining up to give stuff to the Vatican, usually because they think it’s good PR. The latest case in point is an Italian company that bills itself as a leader in the "green economy" called NWG, which is donating an all-electric car, called “NWG Zero,” for the use of the Vatican Press Office.

On Wednesday, a media event will be staged just outside the Press Office to mark the occasion.

The gift is motivated, according to a company officiay, by admiration for “the particular sensibility that Benedict XVI shows regarding the defense and safekeeping of the environment,” which he said is a “motive of great encouragement and a source of inspiration.”

One sure sign that the company knows how to attract reporters is that a press release today indicated that after a prayer of blessing, “a buffet will follow.”

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