The Pope and the Spy Who Loved Him
2013-03-01 0:00

By Sean Flynn | GQ


The butler did it! That was the tabloid take on the unprecedented breach of security that shook the Vatican last year, when a trove of secrets plucked from one of the most impenetrable places on earth—the pope’s private quarters—was leaked to the media. But why did he do it? And did he act alone? Sean Flynn digs around the Vatican’s strange, cloistered world and unravels a cloak-and-dagger scandal that’s a lot more layered than the Church would have you believe—and that may be just the beginning.

The whole thing began, as many cryptic scandals do, with an apparently innocuous phone call. In the spring of 2011, a friend that Gianluigi Nuzzi hadn’t heard from in quite some time asked to meet for coffee in Milan. Nuzzi’s friend didn’t work in journalism, which is Nuzzi’s business, and he didn’t mention that he might have the seeds of a story.

At the café they exchanged pleasantries, caught up. But then Nuzzi’s friend announced his true intention: He had another friend—he wouldn’t say who, exactly—who wanted to share some secrets from inside the notoriously leakproof walls of the Vatican. Nuzzi didn’t find this particularly surprising. People often want to tell him things: He’s on television, the host of an investigative news show called The Untouchables. But he didn’t find it particularly interesting, either. Though he’d written a well-received book in 2009 about the Vatican bank’s history of shady dealings, Nuzzi had no desire to become a specialist in the inner workings of the world’s smallest sovereign nation. And who knew what an anonymous source might be offering.

Still, his friend was insistent. Nuzzi told him to pass along Nuzzi’s cell-phone number.

Sometime later, Nuzzi got another call, this time from a man he did not know. He doesn’t know his real name, so he refers to him as The Contact. The Contact told Nuzzi that, if he was interested, he should take a train from Milan, where he lives and broadcasts his show, to Rome and then go to a bar near Piazza Mazzini. Nuzzi still didn’t know if he was interested, but this was the sort of thing—shadowy encounters with strangers—that Nuzzi enjoys. He has been a journalist for almost twenty years, mostly in print before moving to television a few years ago, and prefers working with confidential sources and documents. He likens himself to a submarine, prowling beneath the waves and surfacing only when he has something to report. Think of how many fish have yet to be discovered, he says, how many trenches still are unexplored!

Two men, both Italians in their forties dressed in conservative suits, met Nuzzi at the bar. They asked him many questions— about his professional interests, his tactics, how he keeps anonymous sources anonymous. They were affable and polite, but Nuzzi guessed they weren’t clerics. "They let slip a few words," he later wrote, "that recalled the barracks more than the sacristy." They offered no secrets. Rather, Nuzzi realized, they were assessing him, gauging whether he could be trusted.

Apparently he could be. A second meeting was arranged—another bar, the same two men. After some small talk, one of them pulled from his pocket a folded sheet of paper. He handed it to Nuzzi, who smoothed it out, read quickly. On it was a list of grievances involving two well known monsignors inside Vatican City. But the complaints were anonymous, which reduced them to gossip. These were the dark secrets—nameless trifles?

Nuzzi handed back the paper. "No, thank you," he told the men.

Both men smiled and said nothing.

Nuzzi was confused. But the men seemed satisfied, and then he understood: The tip had been a bluff, a test to see if he’d grab any silly slander or if he was a serious journalist interested in a serious story.

"Let’s go for a walk," one of the men said. Nuzzi followed them outside, where a van was parked. They drove for almost an hour, but in circles, looping through the streets, making sure they weren’t followed. Then they stopped in front of an apartment building not far from where they’d started. The men had a key to a vacant unit. They led Nuzzi inside, down a hallway, and into a room empty except for a single plastic chair.

A man was sitting in the chair. He told Nuzzi he had worked inside the Vatican for about twenty years. He professed to be a devout and pious Catholic, which Nuzzi would come to believe because the man quoted Gospel passages and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI from memory. The man was uncomfortable meeting with a journalist, but he said his conscience left him no alternative. There are scandals in the Holy See, he told Nuzzi, hypocrisies and frauds practiced upon the Church, and even upon Benedict himself, that he could no longer abide.

The man said he had documents that would prove the truth. He had collected memos and letters for years, and he would give them to Nuzzi. But their meetings could never become known. They could never speak on the phone or communicate by e-mail. They would meet only in person, on a prearranged schedule. Also, the man wanted a code name.

"Maria," the man suggested.

Nuzzi smiled. He liked it. Maria, he thought. The messenger above suspicion.

[...]

Read the full article at: GQ.com
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