Today the Vatican’s Secretariat of State issued a communique
deploring the “widespread
distribution of often unverified, unverifiable, or even completely false news
stories” ahead of the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict
XVI, calling such reports an attempt to influence the cardinal-electors “through
published this morning is an
editorial from Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who, without identifying
specific targets, lambasts “those who
seek to profit from the moment of surprise and disorientation of the
spiritually naive to sow confusion and to discredit the Church and its
governance, making recourse to old tools, such as gossip, misinformation and
sometimes slander, or exercising unacceptable pressures to condition the
exercise of the voting duty on the part of one or another member of the College
of Cardinals, who they consider to be objectionable for one reason or another.”
While neither of these statements from the Vatican
explicitly say as much, they are widely assumed to have been penned in response
to articles in several Italian newspapers alleging that Pope Benedict’s
surprise resignation was prompted by a top-secret report detailing the intrigue
and back-biting of various Vatican lobbies, including a well-connected “gay
lobby” (a rehash of La Repubblica’s
story on the report can be read here).
The report, compiled by three cardinals at Benedict’s behest, is said to have
been delivered to Holy Father in mid-December. The narrative being promoted in
the Italian media is that Pope Benedict was so shocked and disheartened by the
contents of that reportthe financial malfeasance at the heart of the “Vatileaks”
scandal as well as homosexual escapades and blackmail within the Curiathat he
promptly determined to resign from office.
No sources have been named in any of the Italian reports,
recent reassignment of one of the Vatican officials mentioned in the La Repubblica article has
been seen by some as a confirmation of at least some of the story’s sordid details.
It can be difficult to know how much, if any, of these news
reports are trustworthyand even more difficult to put them into context in the
highly-charged climate of curial politics, a nearly-unprecedented papal
resignation, and the drama of a coming conclave. Phil Lawler
Allen both offer calm, measured takes on the reports, balanced by many
years of following Vatican affairs and a healthy reserve about news reports
based on unnamed sources and unverifiable assertions.
Allen points out that the element of the story that may
seem the most shocking actually isn’t terribly surprising, should it turn out
to be true:
In terms of
the story's specifics, I don't know whether it's accurate that a commission of
three cardinals created by Benedict XVI to investigate the Vatican leaks
affair, composed of Cardinals Julian Herranz Casado, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore
De Giorgi, actually considered possible networks inside the Vatican based on
sexual preference, but frankly, it would be a little surprising if they hadn't.
… It also
doesn't stretch credulity to believe there are still people in the system
leading a double life, not just in terms of their sexual preference and
activities, but possibly in other ways as well -- in terms of their financial
interests, for example. Whether they form self-conscious cabals is open to
question, but they may well naturally identify with each other, and it's not
out of the realm of possibility that trying to chart such networks was part of
what the three cardinals tried to do.
Assuming that the dealings
and conniving of a highly-placed gay faction within the Vatican were a part of
the cardinals’ report to the Pope, Lawler calls the idea that such news would
have prompted Benedict’s resignation “nonsense.” He continues:
Pope Benedict, who has lived in Rome and
worked with the Roman Curia for more than 30 years, has surely heard the
reports and the rumors. He cannot possibly have been shocked by the news that
some Vatican officials are homosexual. “He is probably the last person who
would be surprised by such a so-called revelation,” remarked Jean-Marie
Guenois, another veteran Vatican journalist and editor of Le Figaro.
Allen and Lawler agree that the numerous scandals, gaffes,
and controversies in which the Vatican has been embroiled in recent years have
undoubtedly taken their toll on the aging Pontiff; but that only supports the
Holy Father’s stated reason for his resignation, rather than signaling some kind
of dark, mysterious conspiracy. Allen writes:
For the most part, one
has to take the pope at his word: He's stepping aside because he's old and
tired, not because of any particular crisis.
That said, I don't believe you can completely discount
the cumulative impact of the various meltdowns over the last eight years on Benedict's
state of mind. Read Benedict's anguished letter to the bishops of the world
back in 2009, at the peak of the frenzy over the lifting of the excommunication
of a Holocaust-denying bishop, and it's crystal clear he was both pained by the
criticism it generated and frustrated the Vatican hadn't handled the whole
thing more effectively.
Lawler also expresses skepticism that a supposed
gay-cabal-and-blackmail report could have been a serious influence on Pope
If the three cardinals
made the homosexual network a major focus of their report, and if they found the homosexual
influence was more extensive than Pope Benedict had already realized, and if the Pontiff had not already made up
his mind to step down, then conceivably the “Vatileaks” report could have been
one factor contributing to the Pope’s decision. But there is one more reason to
believe that it would have been a minor factor, at best.
Suppose, for the sake of the argument, that the Pope
suddenly became aware of a powerful homosexual cabal. What would he be likely
to do? Why would he resign? Why wouldn’t he stay and fight to restore the
integrity of the Church? Throughout his life Pope Benedict has shown a
consistent willingness to take on tough problems, even when his actions are
likely to prove unpopular. He has always been ready to do whatever he can do to
promote Catholic doctrine and discipline.
“Whatever he can do”ah, there’s the rub. This Pope is
no coward; he is not a man to run away from a problem. But there is a limit to
his strength and he has reached it.
analyses are worth reading in their entirety.
Whether or not revelations of depravity and
intrigue within the Church bureaucracy motivated Pope Benedict to resign, it is
clear that the Vatican believes the recent media reports have the potential to
influence the cardinal-electors in the final days before the conclave. The
Secretariat of State’s communique and Father Lombardi’s editorial both call out
those who would attempt to distort public perception of individuals within the
Vatican, or of Church governance as a whole, at a time when the electors will be
looking with increased scrutiny at their fellow cardinals before heading into
the seclusion of the conclave. Interestingly, a
story at Vatican Insider
states that Pope Benedict may authorize the
disclosure of the Vatileaks report to the entire College of Cardinals before
the conclaveallowing the electors to draw their own conclusions about the
scandal and those involved in it without media sensationalism and speculation.