An unnamed cardinal is suspected of being a leading mole behind 20 or so whistleblowers orchestrating a series of embarrassing leaks of confidential papal documents, Italian media said Monday.
"A cardinal led the crow," read the headline in Il Messaggero, referring to Pope Benedict XVI's personal butler Paolo Gabriele, who was arrested last week in the "Vatileaks" scandal after secret papers were found in his home.
"The real brains are the cardinals. Then there are the monsignors, secretaries and smaller fry," according to one source quoted by La Repubblica who refused to be named but admitted to having leaked documents.
Gabriele, who has worked at the Vatican since 2006 and was one of a select few with access to the pope's private quarters, was arrested a month after the pope set up a special commission of cardinals to probe the leaks.
Several media outlets on Monday were quoting sources who said Gabriele was just one of around 20 whistleblowers who had been leaking information.
The documents, splashed in the Italian press and a book, have shed light on many Vatican secrets, including the Church's tax problems, child sex scandals and negotiations with hardline traditionalist rebels.
Although they do not reveal any great surprises, the secret papers have lifted the lid on deep-seated venom among rival figures in the Vatican.
Gabriele's arrest was greeted with disbelief as the 46-year-old was known for his devotion and loyalty to the pope and there has been speculation he was a simply a pawn in a game of intrigue and struggle for power inside the Holy See.
According to the Vatican correspondent for La Stampa newspaper, Marco Tosatti, Gabriele "was a simple person, who would not have had either the desire or the means" to organise a whistle-blowing operation of this size.
"There must have been someone important behind him" who would "have made him believe that he would be helping Benedict" by leaking the documents, he said.
Vatican expert Bruno Bartoloni said Gabriele was not just the pope's butler but had officially been promoted to become Benedict's official secretary Georg Ganswein's right-hand man -- giving him greater access to secret documents.
One source quoted by La Repubblica said the mole behind the leaks had acted in support of the pope "because the goal was to reveal the corruption within the Church over the past few years".
"There are those who oppose Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, those who think Benedict XVI is too weak to lead the Church and those who think this is the right time to move forward," the source said.
The source also said the pope was deeply affected by the sacking last week of Vatican Bank president Ettore Gotti Tedeschi following a spate of financial scandals.
"He (the pope) began to cry and then he became angry and vowed that the truth will come out," the source said.
Gotti Tedeschi was ousted on Thursday after a no-confidence vote by the board for allegedly failing to clean up the image of the bank and has also been named as a possible source of leaked documents about the institution.© ANP/AFP