May 29th, 2012
01:51 PM ET
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
(CNN) – Bad luck comes in threes, even for the pope.
The past week has seen his butler arrested, accused of leaking secret papers from the papal apartment; the head of his bank sacked for incompetence; and a demonstration on his front doorstep by protesters demanding that he reveal what he knows about Italy's most famous missing-person case.
It's bad PR for the Vatican, but it may be more than that, experts say. It could affect who becomes the next pope.
The arrest of the pope's trusted butler, Paolo Gabriele, came just a day before the board of the Vatican Bank fired its director, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi.
Two days after that, hundreds of people chanted "Truth, truth!" in St. Peter's Square, holding pictures of Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee who disappeared at the age of 15 and has not been seen in the past 29 years.
No less a figure than the Vatican's chief exorcist said he suspected the girl had been abducted for sexual reasons, adding: "The investigation should be carried out inside the Vatican and not outside."
The timing of the demonstration was probably a coincidence, since conspiracy theories about Orlandi's disappearance have been swirling for decades and police investigations have gone nowhere, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican."
But the butler and bank scandals are significant, and reveal a secret battle going on behind closed doors, he said.
The effect of each event is the same: to weaken the authority of Pope Benedict XVI's second in command.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, is involved in a power struggle with his predecessor, experts say.
"The reason for this fight is that the secretary of state will have a strong influence over the next conclave which will choose the next pope," said Giacomo Galeazzi, a journalist at the Italian daily La Stampa.
The late John Paul II's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, is trying to sideline Bertone and put one of his own proteges in place before Benedict dies, Galeazzi said.
"The leaks will end when Bertone is out as secretary of state," he predicted.
He said he expects that Bertone, who will be 78 in December, would be replaced at the end of the year, but not by the cardinal Sodano wants.
Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, isn't the only one who doesn't like Bertone, Reese said.
Bertone "did what normally happens. He brought in his team, the people he likes, the people he trusts, and he put them in key positions in the Vatican," he said.
"There are people who had hitched their star to the previous secretary of state who thought by now they would become an archbishop or a cardinal, and they didn't," Reese said. "These people are unhappy and don't like Bertone."
Part of the reason for the butler and bank scandals is that the Vatican hasn't been run well in decades, Reese said.
"Clerics don't go to Harvard Business School. Bertone is a theologian. He doesn't have an MBA," he said.
And Benedict is no better, he said.
"He is a German professor. He's a person who is into ideas, not a manager, and yet he is running a 1.2-billion member organization," Reese said.
There's a faction within the Vatican that wants the next pope to be "a better manger who can get the shop in order," Reese said.
"A lot of people think that would be an Italian, of course," after two popes from outside of Italy, John Paul II from Poland and Benedict from Germany, he said.
But the undermining of Bertone may work against that faction, he said.
"Bertone is from the Vatican and is Italian," Reese pointed out. "People may say we need somebody from outside who can come in and knock heads together and make it work."
Reese isn't taking a position on where the next pope should be from, but he has strong views on what Benedict's successor should do: "The place really needs to be restructured and reorganized. It still operates in many ways like a 19th century European court."
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.