VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI's private secretary on Friday defended the pontiff's leadership against revelations in leaks of Vatican papers, saying he had "pruned dead branches' in the Holy See.
"He has succeeded in doing what few people believed possible in such a short period of time: revitalise the Church at a difficult time," Archbishop Georg Gaenswein said in a text published by the Catholic weekly Avvenire.
"He has given life to ancient traditions in the Curia (papal court at the Vatican by which the church is governed) and at the same time he has pruned dead branches," the loyal aide wrote. "His courage is significant. Benedict XVI is not afraid of confrontation and debate," he said.
The comments were the first by Gaenswein since the "Vatileaks" scandal broke a few months ago with the publication of confidential papers from the papal offices, including letters and memos addressed to Gaenswein himself.
Benedict's butler Paolo Gabriele has been arrested. He was allegedly in possession of a large number of documents at his home but Vatican watchers say there is likely to be a larger conspiracy aimed at undermining members of the pope's entourage.
Top Vatican officials have been closing ranks and stressing unity in recent days with statements by both Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone and his predecessor Angelo Sodano, dean of the college of cardinals.
Gaenswein was virtually unknown when he became secretary to then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2003 when he was prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but he has become increasingly influential.