Vatileaks centered on papal documents that were passed to an Italian journalist by Paolo Gabriele, the pope's former butler. The pope pardoned Gabriele last month after he had been convicted of theft by a Vatican tribunal and sentenced to 18 months in a Vatican jail.
The leaked texts formed the backbone of a book portraying the Vatican as a hotbed of intrigue and Benedict as a leader undermined by his powerful second-in-command, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, once touted as a possible candidate for the papacy. Gabriele indicated that he had leaked the documents to protect the pope and expose "evil and corruption" in the Vatican.
In a rare public rebuke, the Vatican lashed out at the media over the weekend, accusing journalists of "widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories" that amounted to an attempt "to exert pressure" on the cardinals who will gather for the conclave.
The pope on Monday also issued a decree to allow the cardinals to bring forward the start of the conclave, meaning the gathering may begin as soon as early March. Cardinals are likely to meet to decide the conclave's date early next week, Lombardi said Tuesday. The conclave is widely expected to begin around March 10, according to Robert Moynihan, editor of the magazine Inside the Vatican.
The pope's decree, or "motu proprio" in Latin, also introduced stricter secrecy rules. Any violation of secrecy during the conclave will punished by automatic excommunication from the church, according to the document.
The Holy See is struggling to manage its message before the secret gathering, which will take place in the Sistine Chapel under Michelangelo's fresco of God breathing life into Adam. It's also facing questions over Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who's insisted that he'll attend the conclave even after U.S. court documents showed he helped cover up sex abuse by more than 120 priests.