VATICAN CITY - The Vatican acknowledged on Monday that the worst crisis in Pope Benedict's papacy had hurt the faith of Roman Catholics in their Church, but denied any cardinal was a suspect in a deepening scandal over leaked documents.
The scandal exploded last week when, within a few days, the head of the Vatican's own bank was abruptly dismissed, the pope's butler was arrested for leaking documents and a book was published alleging conspiracies among the cardinals or "princes of the Church".
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told a news conference: "This is naturally something that can hurt the Church, and put trust in it and the Holy See to the test."
But Lombardi strongly denied Italian newspaper reports, quoting insiders who had themselves leaked documents, that a cardinal was among those being investigated over the scandal, which has been dubbed "Vatileaks".
"I categorically deny that any cardinal, Italian or otherwise, is a suspect," Lombardi said, adding that the pope was being kept fully informed of the case.
"He is aware of a delicate situation that we are living through in the Roman Curia. He continues on his path of serenity, his position of faith and morals that is above the fray."
Lombardi played down the depth of the scandal, which has caused a frenzy in the Italian press, saying talk that it was linked to an internal power struggle was "exaggerated".
The scandal concerns documents passed to Italian journalists over the last few months that accuse Vatican insiders of cronyism and corruption in contracts with Italian companies.
It has been brewing for months, but since it burst into the open it has shaken the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church.
After an investigation inside the Holy See, Pope Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, 46, was formally charged on Saturday with stealing confidential papal documents. But leakers quoted by La Stampa, La Repubblica and other media said the leaking plot went much wider and higher.
BUTLER TO COOPERATE
One of Gabriele's two lawyers, Carlo Fusco, said his client, who is being held inside a Vatican police station, would cooperate fully with investigators who are trying to track down other suspects was "very serene and tranquil."
Italian newspapers, quoting other whistle blowers in the Vatican, said the arrested butler was merely a scapegoat doing the bidding of more powerful figures.
"There are leakers among the cardinals but the Secretariat of State could not say that, so they arrested the servant, Paolo, who was only delivering letters on behalf of others," La Repubblica quoted one leaker as saying.