VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - It will take time to restore trust within the walls of the Vatican and ease the pain caused by a leaks scandal that led to the arrest of Pope Benedict’s butler, the pontiff’s spokesman said on Wednesday.
“Clearly to restore a climate of serenity and trust is a process, it is not something that can be solved in a few days,” said Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman.
“But we have started and we are moving ahead,” he said.
Paolo Gabriele, 46, the papal butler arrested on May 23 as part of a investigation into the “Vatileaks” scandal, was questioned by Vatican prosecutor Piero Antonio Bonnet for the second straight day on Wednesday in the tiny city-state’s tribunal.
At the same time that Bonnet was grilling Gabriele in the tribunal, Pope Benedict was holding his weekly general audience just hundreds of meters (yards) away in St. Peter’s Square.
Lombardi acknowledged that the scandal had shaken confidence among those who live and work within the walls of the secretive 108-acre city-state, although he said the pope was carrying out his functions “in a normal and efficient way”.
Gabriele, who was charged with aggravated theft after papal documents were found in his apartment in the Vatican, was questioned in the presence of his two lawyers and of Nicola Picardi, another high-ranking Vatican judicial official known as the “promoter of justice”.
Bonnet must now decide whether to order Gabriele to stand trial and is also considering a request by Gabriele’s lawyers for him to be let out of a “safe room” where he is being held at the Vatican police station and be placed under house arrest.
Many Vatican insiders believe the butler, who served the pope his meals, helped him dress and rode in the front seat of the popemobile, could not have acted alone and may be a pawn in a much wider power struggle between cardinals.
The leaks scandal began in January and came to a head last month when, in the space of a few days, the head of the Vatican bank was abruptly dismissed, Gabriele was arrested and a book containing a trove of private Vatican correspondence was published.
The documents allege corruption in the Vatican’s business dealings with Italian companies, which were paid inflated prices for work in the Vatican, rivalries among cardinals and clashes over the management of the Vatican’s bank, the IOR.
Gabriele, who has been visited in jail by his wife and has been allowed to attend mass, could be held for up to 100 days in pre-trial custody.
Aggravated theft carries a jail sentence of up to six years, but other offences, such as revealing state secrets, could be added to the list of charges during the investigation.
Because the Vatican has no jail, Gabriele would serve his sentence in an Italian prison, although most commentators believe the pope would pardon him if he were found guilty.
Vatican investigators and a commission of cardinals have been hunting for other informants but Lombardi said that Gabriele remained the only person under investigation so far.
Additional reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robin Pomeroy