VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A leaks scandal rocking the papacy widened on Wednesday as the Vatican put two Italian journalists under investigation and said it suspected other Holy See officials had helped two arrested for stealing documents.
The latest twist in the scandal came in a statement about the two journalists who wrote books based on the leaks. It said they were being investigated on suspicion of "complicity in committing a crime."
The leaks are one of the biggest internal scandals to hit the papacy of Pope Francis and were reminiscent of the "Vatileaks" furor that preceded the resignation of former Pope Benedict in 2013. The Italian media has dubbed the latest episodes "Vatileaks II".
"Investigators are also looking into the role of people who, because of their office positions (in the Vatican) may have cooperated in obtaining the confidential documents," spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in the statement, indicating that the scandal looked set to widen soon.
On Nov. 2, the Vatican announced the arrests of a high-ranking Holy See official and an Italian woman who works in public relations for allegedly leaking the documents to the authors of two new books.
Those arrested were members of a commission Francis set up several months after his election in March 2013 to advise him on financial and administrative reforms in the Holy See.
The commission completed its work last year and handed its report to the pope, who subsequently made changes in Vatican administration. They included establishing a new economic ministry and increasing power for Vatican financial regulators.
The books by the two authors, "Merchants in the Temple" by Gianluigi Nuzzi and "Avarice" by Emiliano Fittipaldi, 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 Vatican has condemned the books because it says they were based on stolen documents and give only a "partial and tendentious" version of events.
Last Sunday, the pope said the leaks were "deplorable" and vowed that they would not distract him from continuing financial and administrative reforms.
The Vatican's decision to investigate Nuzzi and Fittipaldi for suspicion of complicity in theft, however, could end up slowing down its investigation.
The Vatican is a sovereign city-state and the two journalists are Italian citizens. Unless the journalists agree to be questioned by the Vatican, the Holy See would have to ask Italian investigators to do it, a complicated and lengthy diplomatic process.
The Vatican has accused the authors of trying to reap financial advantages from receiving stolen documents. Both authors have rejected the accusations, saying they were just doing their jobs.
Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Larry King