The VatiLeaks scandal marred Benedict XVI’s last year as pope, embarrassed the church, exposed the dysfunction of the Vatican bureaucracy, and destroyed the career of the butler convicted for leaking the pontiff’s personals correspondence. But it has been very good for some Italians reporters and their publisher.
As the Vatican reeled and the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, sat in jail, Gianluigi Nuzzi became something of a celebrity in Italy. As part of the roll-out for the English translation of his blockbuster book, “His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Pope Benedict XVI,” Nuzzi has appeared as the hero of a GQ story about his source the butler, and now writes for the Italian Vanity Fair. He has become a familiar Vatican pundit on Italian television and Twitter, where he often directs vitriol at Benedict’s number two, Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.
On a recent afternoon, Nuzzi, dressed in a sharp black three-piece suit and three-quarter coat, arrived late to a panel discussion for a friend’s book about a predator priest in Rome. He carried a leather briefcase filled with documents in transparent plastic sleeves, had a mark across his cheek and a nick atop his glossed bald head.
“I see you’re alive and healthy, and they still haven’t stabbed you,” a man who approached him in the bar of the foreign press club said. “That’s good.”
Only about 20 people attended the event, most of them friends or family of the featured book’s author, who had worked with Nuzzi on his now defunct TV program, “The Untouchables,” which first aired the VatiLeaks letters. Clearly the main attraction, Nuzzi spoke with conviction in a nighttime radio baritone. He accused the Vatican of being stuck in time and attacked the church for subjecting those who denounced their practices to “psychological analysis.” He described himself as having “obviously become very fond” of Gabriele, whose release he tirelessly appealed for on Twitter. (“That Paolo Gabriele is still in jail in a state of misery because he doesn’t say sorry to Bertone is shameful,” he wrote on Dec. 1.)
At the end of the presentation, Giuseppe Rusconi, a self-described “Vaticanista,” as the Vatican reporters are known, raised his voice at the panel. “Already at a moment when the church is in grave difficulty for the blows it has suffered from its members, I find that this book amounts to another attack on the credibility of the church in Italy.”
Grumbling in the crowd grew to a shouting match between the panel and the apologist, with Nuzzi insulting Rusconi’s paper for never breaking any news and for taking the side of Italian and Vatican power brokers instead of the victims of sex abuse. After the panel, Rusconi went up and pressed his case. Nuzzi, fed up, exclaimed, “The truth is also good for the church!”
Before Nuzzi became the go-to guy for Vatican document dumps — his previous book, “Vaticano SpA,” revealed many of the secret accounts of the Vatican bank — he worked as an investigative political reporter for right-leaning publications owned by the family of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Suspicion that Berlusconi handed Nuzzi the embarrassing wiretapped conversations between the mogul’s political enemies, which the reporter published in 2006, led Milan prosecutors to investigate him, though they found no wrongdoing.
Like Nuzzi, the reporter who has broken the most news after him is not a Vatican beat reporter.
“I’m on my way,” Marco Lillo shouted into a phone tucked into his motorcycle helmet on a recent afternoon outside the offices of his left-leaning newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, near the Vatican. “I’ve got to run and get some documents,” he apologized and then zoomed off on his Transalp motorcycle.
An hour later, he came back to the newsroom, which bore a “No Smoking” sign and smelled of cigarette smoke. In an office buried under piles of court documents, Lillo, who has a Van Dyke beard and distracted manner, explained that he, too, stumbled onto the story of the pope’s letters. After investigating the Vatican’s efforts to avoid real estate taxes, a package of documents about the Holy See’s power struggles arrived at his office. The documents included the pope’s correspondence, Lillo said, but neither he nor his colleagues could verify them. On Jan. 25, 2012, Nuzzi revealed the same documents on the “The Untouchables.” When the Vatican did not dispute their authenticity, Lillo immediately published his own letters. “Gabriele [the butler] is not my source,” he said.
A link between the two reporters, who are competitive, ideologically opposite and not particularly fond of one another, is their publisher. Nuzzi’s books are put out by the publishing house Chiarelettere, which also has a 16 percent stake in Il Fatto Quotidiano. “Chiarelettere substituted for what the newspapers and television should have been doing,” said Lorenzo Fazio, the director of Chiarelettere. The publishing house has become the preferred place for investigative reporters writing about Italy’s once taboo power elite. “The church always reacts in the same way: with silence,” Fazio said. “They try and make it so that no one talks about these books.”