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WikiLeaks spares none, not even the Vatican

The Vatican may be the world's smallest state but even its diplomatic soul has been laid bare by WikiLeaks cables covering everything from sex abuse and media blunders to old "technophobic" cardinals.

world Updated: Dec 11, 2010 17:45 IST

The Vatican may be the world's smallest state but even its diplomatic soul has been laid bare by WikiLeaks cables covering everything from sex abuse and media blunders to old "technophobic" cardinals. Cables sent from the U.S. embassy to the Vatican and to the State Department depict Pope Benedict as sometimes isolated, as aides try to protect him from bad news, and say his number two is seen as a "yes man" with little credibility among diplomats.

The cables were published by the Guardian newspaper, one of several news organisations with have been given access to the leaked cables from U.S. embassies around the world. A long cable from February, 2009, though couched in diplomatic language, reads like a scathing criticism of the Vatican's internal and external communications structures, which are held responsible for some of Pope Benedict's biggest public mishaps. "The Holy See's communications operation is suffering from 'muddled messaging' partly as a result of cardinals' technophobia and ignorance about 21st century communications. Only one senior papal advisor has a Blackberry and few have e-mail accounts. It has led to PR blunders on issues as sensitive as the Holocaust," a U.S. diplomat writes.

The cable calls the pope's inner circle of advisers old "Italo-centric" men uncomfortable with information technology and the "rough and tumble of media communications". The pope's right hand man, Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, is depicted as a "yes man" with no diplomatic experience or linguistic skills and the cable suggests that the pope is protected from bad news. "There is also the question of who, if anyone, brings dissenting views to the pope's attention," it says.

Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi -- the one official praised for knowing how to use a Blackberry -- said on Saturday that the cables reflected the perceptions of the authors and were "not expressions of the Holy See itself". While some of the information was known to journalists, seeing it published in official U.S. cables will not please Vatican officials, some of whom are named.

LITANY OF MEDIA MISHAPS: The cable said the Vatican's "lack of information sharing" between its offices could be blamed for the bad handling of the Pope's 2006 Regensburg speech, which Muslims saw as equating Islam with violence, and the reinstating of a Holocaust denying Bishop. Jews and many others were outraged in 2009 when the Pope lifted the excommunication of traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson. The Vatican claimed it did not know that he had denied the full extent of the Holocaust.

Even the Vatican department that oversees relations with Jews found out about the Pope's intentions from the media. The Pope later acknowledged in a book a that "none of us went on the Internet to find out what sort of person we were dealing with". A cable dated February 26, 2010 shows that the Vatican balked at cooperating with investigators over sexual abuse by clergy in Ireland. It said the Vatican had been offended and angered by requests from Irish investigators who wanted to talk to them.

The Murphy Commission Report, published in 2009, said the Church in Ireland had obsessively hidden child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese from 1975 to 2004, and had been more concerned with protecting the Church's reputation than children. The Commission had asked to talk to the Papal Ambassador to Ireland and members of the Vatican department that oversees sexual abuse cases but was spurned. One cable quoted a Vatican official as saying the request had "offended many in the Vatican" and the cable's author writes "The Vatican believes the Irish government failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty during the investigations".

First Published: Dec 11, 2010 17:42 IST