New pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who will take the name Pope Francis I, was elected on Wednesday evening, less than two weeks after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on February 28. Benedict’s resignation was explained in his official statement, that due to “advanced age” he was “no longer suited” to be the Supreme Pontifex. Despite a new pope and explanations from the Vatican, intrigue continues to surround Benedict and the Church. After the “VatiLeaks” scandal in 2012, the Vatican launched an internal investigation, in which they admitted to secretly bugging clergy members. The document containing the results of the investigation will remain confidential, as it has been available only to Pope Benedict, and will now be shown to Pope Francis I. The legality and extent of wiretapping within the Church has been questioned and criticized, perpetuating the ongoing intrigue surround the Catholic Church and its future.

“VatiLeaks” scandal

Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict’s former personal butler, was arrested on 23 May 2012, after thousands of papal documents were discovered by Vatican officers within his residence. The documents were obtained by Gabriele, some photocopied in his office, with many of the personal files leaked to an Italian investigative journalist. Gabriele, as a personal butler, had access to Pope Benedict’s private quarters, and was found guilty for taking personal papers and releasing them to Italian reporters. Several files featured Pope Benedict’s signature, while some documents allegedly had “to be destroyed” written in German on them. What started as media reports soon transformed into a book of Vatican secrets.

Many of the leaked documents revealed Vatican mismanagement and corruption, portraying the Vatican as an ancient, but deeply secretive and intriguing institution. Furthermore, they purportedly included information of corruption, cronyism, and hidden conflict concerning the bank.

Attempting to make good

After being criticized for poor financial record-keeping, Pope Benedict appointed Ernst von Freyberg as the new head of the Papal Bank, promising more transparency. The appointment was made on February 15, only four days after Benedict’s resignation announcement. During the nine month search for the new head of the bank, the Italian Bank suspended Vatican bank card payments, after the tiny country failed to fully implement anti-money laundering legislation, which was recently reformed to meet EU requirements.

Furthermore, the VatiLeaks report also contained documentation of alleged gay networks in the Vatican that were prone to blackmail. Sex scandals within the Catholic Church continually plague the media, adding to the criticism and intrigue of the Vatican, while stimulating the investigation of the notoriously secretive religious community. On February 25, Keith O’Brien, top Cardinal in Britain, announced his resignation only one day after being accused of “inappropriate acts” with other clergy members. A statement from the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland said his resignation had been submitted months ago, but was accepted by the Pope on February 18. The timing of his announcement, however, left many questioning the accusations.

Investigating the Vatican: A “Public Service”

Prior to the leaked documents scandal, the VatiLeaks website was established with the purpose of “offering a valuable service to the public that is unique in the world,” says the VatiLeaks team. “There are hundreds of sites to be found that support Christianity, but very few that provide strong and maintainable opposing views.” The VatiLeaks team states they have several reliable internal sources who “are actively involved in the affairs of the Vatican on a day to day basis” and provide information that have been “profound and supportable.” As public, independent organizations probed the Church, the Vatican launched an internal investigation of clergy members after the VatiLeaks scandal.

A secret dossier

In light of the VatiLeaks incident and continual sex scandals, Pope Benedict XVI launched an internal investigation, with the assistance of three Cardinals from the Cardinal’s Commission of Inquiry regarding the scandal. Cardinals Juián Herranz, Salvatore De Giorgi, and Jozef Tomko present the results of the investigation to Pope Benedict, which will remain confidential. “The Father has decided that the facts of this investigation, the contents of which are known only to Himself, will be made available exclusively to the new Pontiff,” explained the Vatican on Vatican Radio in late February.

Yet while the dossier will be remain confidential with extremely limited availability, the Cardinals of the Conclave requested information from the investigation results. The three investigating Cardinals were permitted to discuss their inquiry with other Cardinals, as they intended to use the information in selecting the next pope. The clergy members expected the information would give them a better idea of the internal Vatican and external media, as well as Catholic community challenges the new pope will face.

“Some” wires tapped

The Vatican’s investigation methods have been questioned, as reports surfaced that a widespread wiretapping scheme had been launched throughout the clergy. “Some intercepts and checks were authorized by the Vatican magistracy,” revealed the Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi in a press briefing. The Italian magazine, Panorama, reported that extensive wiretapping and e-mail interceptions had been conducted on clergy members, but the Vatican argued only a “few” phones had been tapped, and not to the extent that has been publicized, condemning, “false and damaging reports” by the Italian media.

Spokespersons for the Vatican have also denied that the wiretapping was ordered by the three investigating Cardinals, insisting that if any wires were tapped, magistrates would have authorized the operation. Moreover, the surveillance has been described by Rev. Thomas Rosica as a “very small process,” negating the accusations by Panorama’s Vatican expert Ignazio Ingrao that this was “a sort of Vatican Big Brother” maneuver. Panorama claimed “Everyone was being spied on,” according to a translation of the report by The Telegraph. According to Title I: The Obligations and Rights of the Christian Faithful, Can. 220, “No one is permitted to harm illegitimately the good reputation which a person possesses nor to injure the right of any person to protect his or her own privacy.” While the extent and legality of Vatican surveillance is disputed by sources, the Catholic Church continues to face criticism for ongoing intrigue.

Will the Conclave determine a new future for the Vatican?

The papal Conclave involves Cardinals from around the world privately convening in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope. At the end of each day, smoke will rise into the air, signaling whether they have made a decision, with dark smoke showing no decision and white smoke indicating a new pope has been selected. According to the rules of the 1996 apostolic constitution by Pope John Paul, the Conclave must begin between 15 and 20 days after the papal vacancy. This would have required that the Conclave not begin until Friday, March 15. However, as of February 20, Pope Benedict was looking to change the rules. The Conclave began earlier this week, with pre-Conclave discussions between Cardinals several days prior.

Cardinals established that secretive information from the internal VatiLeaks investigation, along with sex scandal accusations, and financial troubles, would all be considered in selecting a new pope. Bishops must resign at the age of 75, while Cardinals aged 80 and over may not vote in the Conclave. Some Cardinals have used the resignation of Pope Benedict as an opportunity to set a precedent in which many more clergymen could be considered for the position than has historically been the case, knowing the option of a shorter term is acceptable. Yet, some have argued this could lead to instability in the Church, citing that too much turnover wouldn’t be constructive.

Several days before the Conclave began, Cardinals already started demonstrating a desire to make significant changes within the Vatican. With limited access to investigative reports, perpetual scandals, and members of the Church questioning the effectiveness and reliability of the Vatican, the 2013 Conclave is expected to be extremely influential in the Catholic Church’s future. On the evening of March 13, the Conclave elected Pope Francis I. Will their decisions, along with the newly elected pope, be able to save the Vatican from future scandal and intrigue, or is papal scrutiny a perpetual qualm?