Vatican has long history of intrigue and controversy
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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict is fighting the worst crisis of his papacy, but his problems are only the latest in a long history of controversies and intrigue in the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
The "Vatileaks" scandal, in which the pope's private papers are alleged to have been pilfered by his own butler, pales in comparison to the scandals of centuries past when popes were accused of violence, nepotism and sexual excesses.
Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the third-ranking official in the world's smallest state, bemoaned the "distorted image" presented of the Vatican and said the internal debates revealed by the documents were perfectly normal in any organization.
Italian newspapers have devoted pages and pages to the crisis, often with graphics showing the exact layout of the pope's apartment or a bird's-eye view of Vatican City, although written reports have often been highly speculative in the face of the Holy See's deep secrecy.
Although it is rare, leaking confidential documents is nothing new. Secret papers from the First Vatican Council of 1869-1870, which defined the doctrine of papal infallibility, ended up in German newspapers.
A highly sensitive papal commission report approving artificial birth control was leaked in 1967, a year before Pope Paul VI rejected its findings and issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae upholding an earlier ban on contraception.
The privacy of the pope's own apartment has also been violated before. In 1958, papal doctor Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi managed to snap pictures of Pope Pius XII on his deathbed and sell them to gossip magazines in Italy.
A remnant of the time when the popes were also temporal rulers over Rome and parts of Italy, the tiny city-state is headquarters for the 1.2-billion-strong Roman Catholic Church, the world's largest. As the Catholic saying goes, "the Church is not a democracy."
A case in point is the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, which - despite recent progress in embracing the Internet and livening up its drab format - waited almost a week before mentioning that papal butler Paolo Gabriele had been arrested for stealing documents that allege corruption in awarding infrastructure contracts.
In recent decades, the culture of secrecy helped mask the clerical sexual abuse of minors and the quiet reassignment of predator priests. It has also prompted charges that the Vatican bank laundered money and secretly funded projects abroad.
But the budgetary wizardry he used to finance it backfired disastrously. He raised funds by selling indulgences to reduce punishment for sinners, a practice that so shocked Martin Luther that he broke with Rome and launched the Protestant Reformation.