ROME — Vatican's powerful number two on Monday spoke out for the first time on the continued leaks of Holy See secret documents, denouncing them as a "ferocious, biting and organised" attack on the pope.
"Attacks have always existed... this time it seems that the attacks are more targeted, sometimes also ferocious, biting and organised," Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone said in an interview with Rai1 public television.
Bertone said however that Pope Benedict XVI "is not letting himself be scared by these attacks, whatever their nature."
"What's most sad in this affair and in these events is the violation of the private life of the Holy Father and the people closest to him."
The secret papers have lifted the lid on deep-seated venom among rival figures in the Vatican, and one theory says the scandal is an attempt to unseat Bertone, who is considered by some to wield too much power.
The plot may run even deeper. According to reports, the leaks are being orchestrated by disgruntled cardinals who believe Pope Benedict XVI is weak and who have already begun preparing to get their own man elected as future pope.
The documents, splashed in the Italian press and published in a recent book, have shed light on many Vatican secrets, including the Church's tax problems, child sex scandals and negotiations with hardline traditionalist rebels.
The leaks, which have enraged the Vatican, have seen the pope's personal butler Paolo Gabriele arrested, allegedly in possession of secret documents, to the surprise of many within the Vatican walls where he was known for papal devotion and loyalty.
The latest leak came on Sunday, with an anonymous whistleblower telling the Italian daily La repubblica that Gabriele was merely a scapegoat and pointed the finger of blame on Bertone and Georg Gaenswein, one of Benedict's personal secretaries.
"Kick out of the Vatican those who are really responsible for the scandal: Mr. Gaenswein and Cardinal Bertone," the source told the paper.