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New allegations of Vatican wiretaps

Latest 'Big Brother' revelation haunts upcoming conclave

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone arrives at a pre-conclave Vatican meeting (Picture: AFP) Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone arrives at a pre-conclave Vatican meeting (Picture: AFP)
  • Alessandro Speciale, Vatican City
  • Vatican City
  • March 5, 2013
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An Italian weekly magazine has branded an alleged surveillance campaign by the Holy See as a “Vatican Big Brother” operation that included more than a year of widespread wiretapping and the monitoring of personal movements by officials within the Vatican. 

Panorama said in a front-page story last week that the Vatican’s Gendarmeria, headed by former Italian secret service agent Domenico Giani, tapped phones and read the emails of Church officials as part of an investigation into the so-called Vatileaks scandal – an investigation made at the behest of Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, has dismissed claims of long-term and extensive surveillance, saying that only a few phones were tapped at the request of the Vatican judiciary, and not of Cardinal Bertone. 

But Panorama responded that according to its sources in the Vatican, the surveillance began in August 2011 – several months prior to news of the Vatileaks scandal in January last year and the arrest of Pope Benedict’s former butler Paolo Gabriele in May 2012. 

“Everyone was spied on in the Vatican,” said Panorama’s Vatican expert Ignazio Ingrao, who added that surveillance is ongoing as investigators continue to search for evidence of wrongdoing in the leaking of official documents.

Panorama has further claimed that the Vatican police work closely with the secretariat and that its sources say Vatican police have amassed “an enormous quantity of data” about personal phone calls, movements and contacts within the Vatican in its archives.

Such a trove of data could cast a long shadow on the upcoming papal conclave later this month.

In fact, the fallout has already playing a substantial role in pre-conclave talks in Rome, where few believed that Gabriele – sentenced to 18 months in prison but later pardoned by Pope Benedict – was the only one involved in leaking Vatican documents. 

In the wake of the leaks, Pope Benedict commissioned three cardinals – Salvatore De Giorgio, Jozef Tomko and Julian Herranz – to prepare a report on the wider allegations of infighting and blackmail alleged by the leaked documents.

Pope Benedict met with the three as one of the last acts of his pontificate. 

That report, which remains secret and is to be read only by Pope Benedict’s successor, has become an object of intense curiosity within the College of Cardinals. 

Moreover, the cardinals who prepared it are taking part in pre-conclave meetings and could decide to share at least part of their findings with their fellow cardinals.

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