In the wake of several high-profile and salacious scandals alleging corruption and sexual politics inside the Vatican, Rome was rocked again Thursday by an Italian magazine's claims of an extensive program of secret wiretapping and surveillance inside the holy city-state.
Panorama magazine claimed that Vatican authorities tapped phone calls and read the emails of Church officials as part of an investigation into the so-called Vatileaks scandal, according to a translation by The Telegraph.
The damaging Vatileaks affair came to a head in May of 2012, when then-Pope Benedict's butler Paolo Gabriele was arrested and charged with leaking hundreds of internal documents to journalists. On Monday, the Vatican said the Vatileaks investigation report results were to remain confidential, a step unlikely to quell the rampant speculation and rumors swirling about its contents.
Panorama's Vatican expert, Ignazio Ingrao, called the Vatican's clandestine efforts "a sort of Vatican Big Brother" operation, adding, "Everyone was spied on in the Vatican," according to The Telegraph. Panorama also alleged the wiretapping is ongoing.
Reuters reported on Thursday, Benedict's last day in office, that the Vatican admitted there may have been wiretapping, but only on a small scale.
Speaking at a press conference, Vatican spokesperson the Rev. Federico Lombardi insisted that Panorama had grossly exaggerated the issue.
"There may have been some wiretaps and controls ordered by the investigating magistrate, but I can assure you it was not on a large scale," Lombardi said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Two to three phones were tapped."
The LA Times also reported that the Vatican denied Panorama's claim that the wiretapping was ordered by Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's former Secretary of State and then Pope's right hand man.
Lombardi said if wiretapping was authorized, it was ordered by magistrates and not by Bertone, according to The New York Times. The spokesperson went on to denounce reports of distrust among Vatican officials.
The idea of “an investigation that creates an atmosphere of fear of mistrust that will now affect the conclave has no foundation in reality,” he said, according to The New York Times.
While a date has not been set for the papal conclave that will pick Pope Emeritus Benedict's successor, the secretive election process is expected to start sometime in the next two weeks.