VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Two new books by Italian journalists depict a Vatican plagued by mismanagement, greed and corruption and where Pope Francis faces stiff resistance from the old guard to his reform agenda.
The books draw in part on leaked documents, reviving memories of the "Vatileaks" scandal of 2012, which preceded the shock resignation of former Pope Benedict the following year.
The Vatican called the new works "a serious betrayal of trust", but said Francis was "tranquil" and determined to pursue the mandate for reform given to him by the cardinals who elected him in 2013.
"The pope does not need two books to tell him what still needs to be done," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.
"Merchants in the Temple" by Gianluigi Nuzzi and "Avarice" by Emiliano Fittipaldi were published in Italy on Wednesday.
On Monday, the Vatican said the books generated "confusing, partial, and tendentious interpretations" in a statement that also announced the shock arrest of two members of a commission the pope had set up to study financial reforms and advise him.
The arrested duo, including a high-ranking Spanish cleric, are suspected of leaking confidential documents to the authors.
"This was a clumsy attempt to distract attention away from what is told in the book, which is based on evidence from Vatican documents," Nuzzi said at the launch of his book.
"This pope is trying to forge ahead with reforms and has encountered a lot of difficulties and entrenched resistance," he told reporters.
A highlight of Nuzzi's book is the transcript of a recording of the pope at a meeting in July 2013 - four months after his election - in which he complains to top Vatican officials about its murky finances.
"We have to better clarify the finances of the Holy See and make them more transparent," he says in the recording, which Nuzzi says was made secretly by someone in the room.
"C-l-a-r-i-t-y. That is what's done in the most humble companies and we have to do it, too," Francis says, adding: "It is no exaggeration to say most of our costs are out of control."
Nuzzi rose to fame in 2012 with the book "His Holiness", which was largely based on leaked documents from the butler of former Pope Benedict, Paolo Gabriele, who stole them from the pope's desk in the "Vatileaks" scandal.
Nuzzi also discloses that a burglary took place in the Vatican on the night of March 29-30 of last year in which documents belonging to the advisory commission were stolen from a safe and then returned anonymously.
The book includes pictures of the damaged safe and doors.
Nuzzi writes of irregularities in the funding of causes to declare saints in the Roman Catholic Church, the purported diverting of funds intended for the poor to plug administrative deficits and the lavish lifestyles of some cardinals.
He says the management of Peter's Pence, a collection taken up yearly around the world for charities and sent to Rome, "is an enigma cloaked in the most impenetrable secrecy".
"Only about two out of every 10 euros in Peter's Pence goes to the needy," he said at the presentation.
The Vatican said money from Peter's Pence had been used on administrative costs for years.
Maintenance and restoration contracts were handed out at inflated prices, Vatican real estate is worth seven times what it is listed on the account books and the city-state's pension fund is fast approaching collapse, he writes.
In the other book, "Avarice", Fittipaldi writes that some funds from a foundation that runs a Vatican-owned children's hospital in Rome were diverted to pay for the renovation of an apartment belonging to a senior cardinal.
Fittipaldi, a journalist for the newsweekly L'Espresso, says the foundation paid 24,000 euros ($26,000) for a helicopter flight to take the same cardinal to southern Italy for a charity event, according to excerpts in Rome's La Repubblica newspaper.
Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that while documents should not have been leaked, it was the pope who had set up the commission to advise him on reforms in the first place.
The Vatican's statement on Monday accused the authors of the books of trying to reap advantages from receiving stolen documents, which was "a gravely illegal act".
Both authors have rejected the accusations, saying they were just doing their jobs.
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Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Grant McCool and Giles Elgood