The man reportedly behind the "VatiLeaks" scandal of hundreds of leaked Catholic documents, has claimed that more than 20 whistleblowers were involved in the operation which attempted to prove corruption, power struggles and incompetence at the highest levels at the Holy See.

Paolo Gabriele, a former papal butler, will stand trial accused of stealing the documents and leaking them to major Italian newspapers - but it it is widely believed he has been a pawn in a wider conspiracy inside the tiny nation.

He told investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, for Italy's La7 TV: "The people, who like me, want to help bring some transparency number at least 20."

paolo gabriele

Pope Benedict XVI, with butler Paolo Gabriele, who has been arrested in an embarrassing leaks scandal

Investigators found documents in his quarters including reports on the Vatican's tax affairs, and a document which suggested that Pope Benedict's new ambassador in Washington was himself a whistleblower.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano was removed in October as the second-in-command administrator of the Vatican, and sent to the US. Although a prestigious role, it took him far from the Catholic seat of power.

Only one other person has been arrested so far in the VatiLeaks case - computer expert Claudio Sciarpelletti.

Gabriele has previously claimed he was acting out of love for the church, but said in the interview that people were afraid to speak out from inside the city walls: "Ours is a state where you can get in, kill and leave undisturbed, and after 24 hours no one can say what happened."

Gabriele, who would ride at the head of the 'Popemobile', started as a humble cleaner in the Vatican and rose to become the Pope's personal butler.

He now faces up to six years in prison, and has been under house arrest in his Vatican apartment since July.

Nuzzi, who published much of the expose in his book His Holiness: The Secret Letters From The Desk Of Pope Benedict XVI said in an interview with a German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau that no-one disputed the authenticity of the documents.

"They are like sandpaper, because the content is embarrassing and painful.

"I will not breathe a word about my informants. But as Paolo Gabriele has designated myself as a recipient of documents - more specifically - photocopies of documents – this releases me at least partly from the absolute protection of sources.

He expressed shock at Gabriele's continued imprisonment.

"I note with surprise that the man has been detained for months. Is that necessary? Commensurate with the law? For an offence of theft? Hardly.

He said the butler had known the risk he was taking in supposedly passing over the documents: "We are both adults. Gabriele has not given me these papers to make paper planes out of them. 

"I have asked him how he feels. He told me that he was completely at peace with himself, and he had acted in full awareness of the possible consequences, because he considered it his duty as a believer.