ROME - Who are the Vatican whistleblowers? "There isn't just one brain behind the operation, there are several. There are cardinals, private secretaries, monsignors and the small fry. Men and women, priests and laypeople. The whistleblowers even include cardinals. But the Vatican Secretary of State cannot admit that and has the small fry arrested, like "Paoletto" (as Paolo Gabriele is affectionately known), the Pope's valet. Who has got nothing to do with it apart from having passed on some letters."
A suburb in the north of Rome, a table in a bar, traffic passing by. It is lunchtime on a now limpid Sunday morning and one of those behind the flow of confidential letters from the Holy See is explaining how the operation works.
"Those doing it are acting to protect the Pope."
The Pope? Why?
"Because the whistleblower - or rather whistleblowers, because there are more than one of them - want to reveal the corruption inside the church in recent years, since 2009-2010."
Who are they? Who are you?
"There are those opposed to the Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone. And those who think that Benedict XVI is too weak to lead the church. [The modernists...]And those who think that this is the time to step forward. So it's become everyone against everyone else. It's war and you no longer know which side anyone is on."
My source is tormented, wanting to speak but at the same time frightened and full of doubts. No names to be published, it would put him or her at risk. There are sudden silences, suspicious glances. "Can I trust you? This thing is terribly delicate." Let's try.
How did the leaks from the Vatican start?
"Out of fear that the power accumulated by the Secretary of State was not in the interest of others in the Vatican." [Just as I have said before.]
But is money also involved?
A hand runs through the hair, eyes look around, fingers torment a ring.
"Money is always involved. There are also economic interests in the Holy See. In 2009-2010 some cardinals began to sense a loss of central control: partly from attempts to restrict the freedom of the inquiry that Monsignor Carlo Maria Viganò was running against corruption, partly because of the Pope's gradual detachment from internal matters." [He trusted Bertone too much.]
The cars in the street honk their horns. Two dogs end up in a fight. We change location. Walk up the hill. Another bar, with an internal garden, a little quieter. The conversation proceeds more smoothly.
"What happened then? Viganò wrote to the Pope denouncing cases of corruption. He asked for help, but the Pope couldn't do anything. He couldn't do anything because it would create an open rift with his right-hand man. In order to keep the Church united he sacrificed Viganò. Or rather, pretended to sacrifice him, because, as you know, the nuncio in Washington (where Viganò was sent) is the most important. So the Cardinals realised that the Pope was weak and sought protection from Bertone."
What did the Pope do then?
"The Pope realised that he had to protect himself. He summoned five people he knew he could trust, four men and one woman. The so-called rapporteurs, Benedict's secret agents. The Pope asked these people for advice, giving everyone a role, with the woman coordinating all five. "
There is a woman helping the Pope in this?
"Yes, she's the strategist. Then there is one physically collecting the evidence. Another preparing the ground, and the other two make sure all this is possible. The role of these trusted people is to tell the Pope who are his friends and who his enemies, so you know who you are fighting against."
Meanwhile, how did the leaking of documents start?
"They started to come out. Channels and journalists were identified."
How are they taken out?
"By hand. The Vatican intelligence service has integrated security systems in the basement of the Apostolic Palace, directed by a 35-year-old ex-hacker, that are more advanced than anything the CIA has, sophisticated systems, but they're no use. Because the Cardinals are used to writing their messages by hand and dictating them. They are then delivered by hand. And the leaked documents are their way of fighting this war. The primary objective was to attack the Pope, to weaken him and convince him to give up control of the political and economic affairs of the Church. Something had to be done."
And the president of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who was ousted?
"Same thing. Even though he was really close to the Pope: they wrote the encyclical Caritas in Veritate together. Gotti didn't answer to anyone, only the Pope, sending Benedict memos to describe the situation inside the IOR (Institute for Religious Works, the official name of the bank). Including the failed operations, like the law against money laundering or the takeover of the San Raffaele hospital and research centre. Bertone gets jealous, accuses Gotti and decides to oust him. When the Pope heard about Gotti's dismissal last Thursday, he started to cry, "My friend Ettore!" [The Holy Father did not do anything to Bertone!]
The Pope was crying?
"Yes, but then he got really angry and reacted, saying that the truth would come out."
But he couldn't oppose it?
"He could have, but it would have meant a sensational rupture with his Secretary of State."
And then the next day?
"And the next day the Pope was struck again, close to home, when Paoletto was arrested. Now the Pope is in despair. But Paoletto is not the whistleblower, there are lots of whistleblowers. At most someone has used him."
They are saying that Gotti is one of those behind the leaks.
"Gotti is an honest person, who is keeping quiet, as he did during the official investigation into the IOR. And he is now after being thrown out. He's not playing any games; he's not behind the leaks."
Father Georg, Pope's secretary, is also in the crosshairs?
"He was one of the targets for one faction: now more than ever he represents the link between all the Vatican departments and the Pope, acting as a filter, influencing and advising the Pope." [I have heard that Bertone does not like him as well.]
We've now been taking for three hours, it is mid-afternoon, and we're on our third coffee. This person is very well-informed and knows the details, the way things work and the people inside the Holy See like few others.
Why did you decide to come out into the open?
"To reveal the truth. And to bring an end to this media witchhunt for a culprit in the guise of a whistleblower (the valet), a priest (Father George), or a high official or cardinal (Gotti, Cardinal Piacenza or others). The role of the Church is to defend the Gospel, not to accumulate power and money. And I'm doing this in the name of God. I'm not afraid."
(Translated from Italian by Kathryn Wallace)
Will Bertone say the last paragraph?