Italy gripped by conspiracy theories over pope’s resignation

Italy gripped by conspiracy theories over pope’s resignation

Speculation over secret dossier submitted to Catholic leader on the day before he announced his decision to step down

Former pope's butler Paolo Gabriele is received in a private audience by Pope Benedict XVI, at the Vatican, in December 2012 (photo credit: AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
Former pope's butler Paolo Gabriele is received in a private audience by Pope Benedict XVI, at the Vatican, in December 2012 (photo credit: AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Italian media is full of speculation about the contents of a secret 300-page dossier recently submitted to Pope Benedict XVI, which may be the reason behind his surprise resignation. Theories about its contents range from material relating to the blackmailing of gay priests to financial irregularities in the Holy See.

Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica reported Friday that the dossier describes divisions in the Vatican, including a “cross-party network united by sexual orientation.”

Quoting from the report, La Repubblica said some Vatican officials had been subject to “external influence” from laymen with whom they had links of a “worldly nature.”

The same news report also quoted a source claiming the dossier alleges various groups within the Vatican consistently broke the sixth and seventh commandments — “thou shalt not steal” and “thou shalt not commit adultery.”

The dossier, prepared by three cardinals and submitted to the Pope in December, was the result of an investigation into the Vatican’s leaks scandal. The “Vatileaks” affair erupted last year after papers taken from the pope’s desk were published in a blockbuster book. The pope’s butler was convicted in October of aggravated theft, and later pardoned. The paper said the pope had made the decision to resign on December 17, the day after he received the dossier.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi refused to confirm or deny the allegations.

“Neither the cardinals’ commission nor I will make comments to confirm or deny the things that are said about this matter,” he said, according to The Guardian. “Let each one assume his or her own responsibilities. We shall not be following up on the observations that are made about this.”

The first pontiff to resign in 600 years, Benedict himself has said he simply no longer has the “strength of mind and body” to be pope. He will formally step down on February 28. Lombardi has indicated that Benedict would meet with the three cardinals before stepping down.

A second theory being circulated surrounds the reassignment on Friday of a top official from the Vatican’s secretariat of state to Colombia.

Ettero Balestrero was named undersecretary of the Vatican’s Foreign Ministry in 2009 and, among other tasks, has been a lead player in the Holy See’s efforts to get on the “white list” of financially transparent countries. The Pope named him ambassador, or nunzio, to Colombia.

Balestrero was head of the Holy See’s delegation to the Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee, which evaluated the Vatican’s anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing measures. The Vatican submitted itself to Moneyval’s evaluation in a bid to improve its reputation in the financial world.

The Vatican passed the test on the first try in August, and Moneyval said it had made great progress in a short amount of time. But the Holy See received poor or failing grades for its financial watchdog agency and its bank, long the source of some of the Vatican’s more storied scandals.

Some of the documents leaked in the midst of the “Vatileaks” scandal concerned differences of opinion about the level of financial transparency the Holy See should provide about the bank, the Institute for Religious Works.

The Vatican is now working to comply with Moneyval’s recommendations before the next round of evaluations. Lombardi said the lengthy Moneyval process would simply be handled by someone else now that Balestrero is leaving. The nunciature in Colombia is one of the most important in Latin America, and Vatican officials said the move was a clear promotion for Balestrero.

Lombardi noted that the nunciature is the headquarters for the Latin American bishops’ conference as well as the regional organization for religious orders, and is usually headed by someone who has had experience as a nuncio in at least two other postings.

“The procedure for this nomination was started some time ago, as evidenced by the fact that the agreement (with Colombia) has already been reached,” Lombardi told The Associated Press. “It was started well before the pope’s resignation, so it’s completely unfounded to link it to the news articles in recent days.”

Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, the Opus Dei canon lawyer who headed the cardinal’s commission, has spoken in vague terms about the report and the well-known divisions within the Vatican Curia that were exposed by the leaks.

“Certainly, it has been said that this was a hypothesis behind the pope’s resignation, but I think we need to respect his conscience,” Herranz told Radio24 last week. “Certainly, there are divisions and there have always been divisions, as well as violent contrapositions along ideological lines. These aren’t new, but yes, they have a weight.”

Herranz, who was the Vatican’s top legislator before retiring, was joined on the commission by Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko and Italian Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgio. The committee had broad-ranging powers to question Vatican officials, including cardinals, beyond the purely criminal scope of investigation carried out by Vatican prosecutors against the butler.

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