The (Pope’s) Butler Did It

A mystery in The Vatican over who might be leaking documents that include Pope Benedict XVI’s private correspondence, has apparently been solved with the arrest of the most stereotypically obvious suspect possible:

VATICAN CITY — An already sordid scandal over leaked Vatican documents took a Hollywood-like turn Saturday with confirmation that the pope’s own butler had been arrested after documents he had no business having were found in his Vatican City apartment.

The detention of butler Paolo Gabriele, one of the few members of the papal household, capped one of the most convulsive weeks in recent Vatican history and threw the Holy See into chaos as it enters a critical phase in its efforts to show the world it’s serious about complying with international norms on financial transparency.

The tumult began with the publication last weekend of a book of leaked Vatican documents detailing power struggles, political intrigue and corruption in the highest levels of Catholic Church governance. It peaked with the inglorious ouster on Thursday of the president of the Vatican bank. And it concluded with confirmation Saturday that Pope Benedict XVI’s own butler was the alleged mole feeding documents to Italian journalists in an apparent bid to discredit the pontiff’s No. 2.

“If you wrote this in fiction you wouldn’t believe it,” said Carl Anderson, a member of the board of the Vatican bank which contributed to the tumult with its no-confidence vote in its president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. “No editor would let you put it in a novel.”

The bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works, issued a scathing denunciation of Gotti Tedeschi in a memorandum obtained Saturday by The Associated Press. In it the bank, or IOR by its Italian initials, explained its reasons for ousting Gotti Tedeschi: he routinely missed board meetings, failed to do his job, failed to defend the bank, polarized its personnel and displayed “progressively erratic personal behavior.”

Gotti Tedeschi was also accused by the board of leaking documents himself: The memorandum from the Institute for Religious Works, as the bank is known, said he “failed to provide any formal explanation for the dissemination of documents last known” to be in his possession.

In an interview with the AP, Anderson stressed that the latter accusation was independent of the broader “Vatileaks” scandal that has rocked the Vatican for months. But he stressed: “It is not an insignificant issue.”

Gotti Tedeschi hasn’t commented publicly about his ouster or the reasons behind it, saying he has too much admiration for the pope to do so. He also hasn’t been arrested, avoiding the fate that befell Gabriele.

The 46-year-old father of three has been in Vatican detention since Wednesday after Vatican investigators discovered Holy See documents in his apartment. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Gabriele had met with his lawyers and that the investigation was taking its course through the Vatican’s judicial system.

Gabriele, the pope’s personal butler since 2006, has often been seen by Benedict’s side in public, riding in the front seat of the pope’s open-air jeep during Wednesday general audiences or shielding the pontiff from the rain. In private, he is a member of the small papal household that also includes the pontiff’s private secretaries and four consecrated women who care for the papal apartment.

Lombardi said Gabriele’s detention marked a sad development for all Vatican staff. “Everyone knows him in the Vatican, and there’s certainly surprise and pain, and great affection for his beloved family,” the spokesman said.

The “Vatileaks” scandal has seriously embarrassed the Vatican at a time when it is trying to show the world financial community that it has turned a page and shed its reputation as a scandal plagued tax haven.

Vatican documents leaked to the press in recent months have undermined that effort, alleging corruption in Vatican finance as well as internal bickering over the Holy See’s efforts to comply with international norms to fight money laundering and terror financing.

The Vatican in July will learn if it has complied with the financial transparency criteria of a Council of Europe committee, Moneyval — a key step in its efforts to get on the so-called “white list” of countries that share financial information to fight tax evasion.

Anderson acknowleged that the events of the last week certainly haven’t cast the Holy See in the best light. And he said the bank’s board appreciated that the ouster of its president just weeks before the expected Moneyval decision could give the committee pause.

“The board considered that concern and decided that all things considered it was best to take the action at this time,” Anderson said. “These steps were taken to increase the IOR’s position vis-a-vis Moneyval.”

As for Gabriele, it’s worth noting that he could end up spending up to 30 years in prison, although I presume that any sentence would be served in an Italian prison since I’m not aware of any jail facilities of any kind on Vatican territory.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. although I presume that any sentence would be served in an Italian prison since I’m not aware of any jail facilities of any kind on Vatican territory

    Did you not read the article? “The 46-year-old father of three has been in Vatican detention since Wednesday” Apparently there is a Vatican jail, which is something I find very disturbing.

  2. ratufa says:


    Because the Vatican has no jail, Gabriele was being held in one of the three so-called “secure rooms” in the offices of the Vatican’s tiny police force inside the walled city-state.

  3. @Stormy Dragon:

    The Vatican is a sovereign nation. Why would they not have a means to detain people accused of crimes, even if only temporarily?

  4. @ratufa:

    Thanks for that.

    I am reminded that Mehmed Al Agca, the man who tried to kill John Paul II, served his time in an Italian Prison. Though, to be fair, I do not recall if he was tried under Vatican or Italian law.

  5. Peacewood says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I believe Stormy found that fact to be Ethically disturbing, not legally disturbing, i.e. No church should have its own judicial system.

  6. @Peacewood:

    But sovereign nations have their own judicial systems. Vatican City’s status as a sovereign nation goes back to the the Lateran Treaty, but was essentially a fact going back hundreds of years.

    And, for the record, many religious organizations have their own judicial system. In Judaism it’s called a Beth Din

  7. @Doug Mataconis:

    The Vatican is a sovereign nation.

    Yes, and given that the primary purpose of a nation is to monopolize the licit initation of force, the idea of a church being a sovereign nation disturbs me.

  8. jd says:

    The Vatican has been around for a long time. Imagine what the oubliette looks like.

  9. Richard Gardner says:

    Most churches have an internal equivalent to a judicial system on religious matters. Lots of “church law” is most large church denominations. In the Catholic Church I know there are hearings on marriage annulments, which while not a legal divorce, quacks like a duck. Or how about the scene in the 1968 Anthony Quinn movie, “The Shoes of the Fisherman” where a young priest is examined for heresy?

    Without looking it up, I think there are 4-5 properties around Rome that are considered part of the independent Vatican to include the Castello, which has some un-nice 1600s dungeons. Been 25 years since I’ve been there.

    As a reminder, outside the Anglosphere, jury trials are not the norm, and judges are much more powerful.