The Vatican on Tuesday sought to put the widening scandal over leaked documents into a very different light, saying the stolen papers didn't just concern matters of internal church governance but represented the thoughts of people who in writing to the pope believed they were essentially speaking before God.
As a result, Pope Benedict XVI feels particularly pained over the leaks and wants to get to the bottom of the scandal to heal the breach and re-establish a sense of trust among the faithful, according to the Vatican's undersecretary of state, Archbishop Angelo Becciu.
"I consider the publication of stolen letters to be an unprecedentedly grave, immoral act," Becciu told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. "It's not just that the pope's papers were stolen, but that people who turned to him as the vicar of Christ have had their consciences violated."
The so-called "Vatileaks" scandal has tormented the Vatican for months and represents one of the greatest breaches of trust and security for the pope in recent memory. Benedict's personal butler has been arrested, accused of theft, after documents he had no business having were found in his Vatican City apartment.
Few think the butler acted alone, and the investigation is continuing on three separate tracks.
The motivations for the leaks remain unclear: Some commentators say they appear designed to discredit Benedict's No. 2, the secretary of state. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Others say they're aimed at undermining the Vatican's efforts to become more financially transparent. Still others say they aim to show the 85-year-old Benedict's weakness in running the church.
Becciu said the pope was particularly pained that someone so close to him had been arrested for behavior that was "unjustifiable under any pretext. Certainly, the pope feels pity for him," Becciu said. "But still, what has happened was brutal."
Lombardi said the scandal was grave enough that Benedict has established a commission of high-ranking cardinals to investigate alongside the criminal investigation and an internal administrative probe.