The Vatican has launched an internal, criminal investigation into the leaks of confidential documents that alleged corruption and financial mismanagement and exposed power struggles among Holy See officials, a Vatican prelate said Saturday.
In addition, Pope Benedict XVI himself has set up a special commission to shed light on the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal because he was so distressed by the "disloyalty" shown by those who leaked the memos, Monsignor Angelo Becciu, undersecretary in the Vatican's Secretariat of State, told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
The scandal _ and the rare threat to punish the perpetrators within the Vatican's own legal system of criminal and administrative sanctions _ has come at an exceedingly delicate time for the Vatican, which is seeking to win European approval for its efforts to ensure its finances are transparent and that its laws to fight money laundering and terror financing meet international norms.
Leaks of memos alleging corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts, mismanagement in the Vatican's finances, infighting and disputes over the Vatican's new anti-money laundering efforts haven't helped the bid.
Just Friday, a team of inspectors from the Council of Europe wrapped up a three-day visit to the Holy See to review its compliance with norms required by the Financial Action Task Force, the Paris-based policymaking body that helps develop anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing legislation.
It was the second such visit, part of an evaluation process that will culminate in early July when the Vatican learns if it has complied with the FATF's 49 recommendations, which cover everything from customer due diligence in banking institutions to freezing and confiscating terrorist assets.
Compliance would help boost the Vatican's efforts to get on the so-called "white list" of countries that share financial information _ a designation the Vatican hopes will forever dispense with its reputation as a scandal-plagued, secrecy-obsessed tax haven.
In a statement Saturday, the Vatican stressed that the FATF evaluation process remains on track, amid reports in the Italian media that it had been delayed by the complete rewriting of the Vatican's anti-money laundering law after the first FATF evaluation round in November, and the eruption of the "Vatileaks" scandal.
The scandal began in January with the publication of leaked letters from the former No. 2 Vatican administrator to Benedict in which he begged not to be transferred after exposing what he said was corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts.
Other documents followed about purported infighting over the scope of the Vatican's anti-money laundering law and whether it required the Vatican to share financial information with other countries before the law went into effect last April.
There was even a document about an alleged plot to kill Benedict.
While the Vatican spokesman dismissed that report as absurd, he did threaten legal action against the private television news program that obtained the initial documents.
Becciu told L'Osservatore Romano that those "disloyal" and "cowardly" officials who leaked the documents would similarly face penal and administrative sanctions. He said a full-scale internal investigation across all levels and departments of the Holy See was underway, with the Vatican prosecutor heading up the criminal probe and the Secretariat of State handling administrative sanctions.
"The hope is to be able to reconstruct the basis of our work: reciprocal trust," he told L'Osservatore.
Follow Nicole Winfield at http://www.twitter.com/nwinfield