VATICAN CITY - The Vatican is being subjected to "blackmail", a spokesman said on Wednesday, as Pope Benedict XVI's butler was questioned for a second day on charges of stealing confidential papal papers.
Father Federico Lombardi was reacting to an anonymous letter published by the La Repubblica daily earlier this week which called for the resignation of two top Vatican officials and said the butler was only "a scapegoat".
"It is a serious threat. I think the word 'blackmail' would be a way of defining it," Lombardi told reporters at a special briefing on a scandal over leaks of sensitive documents that has gripped the Vatican for months.
The author of the letter had threatened to make public more documents unless Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone and the pope's secretary Georg Gaenswein resigned, and accused them of being responsible for the scandal.
The pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, 46, risks up to six years in prison for stealing documents found in his home and is being held in the Vatican.
His alleged crime is as yet unexplained and some Vatican watchers say he is only a small part of a broader plot at the heart of the Catholic Church.
Gabriele, who was arrested on May 23, had a first round of questioning on Tuesday in the presence of a judge, his defence and the Vatican prosecutor.
Documents allegedly stolen by Gabriele, including sensitive memos about the Catholic Church's handling of child abuse scandals and of accusations of money laundering, have been published by Italian newspapers and in a book.
Several Vatican watchers say the leaks are aimed at undermining Bertone, a powerful and divisive figure who is the Vatican's second in command