Rome — The Vatican sought yesterday to tamp down rumours involving sex, money and gay priests that have been swirling in the Italian media and have been linked by some to Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign.
The strongly-worded denial came on the eve of the pope’s last Angelus blessing, expected to draw huge crowds of the faithful, before he stands down on Thursday.
Vatican Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone said it was “deplorable” that as the time for the Roman Catholic cardinals to elect a new pope approaches, a rash of “often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories” has appeared.
Such unfounded stories “cause serious damage to persons and institutions,” he said, and are an attempt to influence the cardinals’ free will in the election “through public opinion”.
Bertone did not address the specific claims that were first published in La Repubblica, the country’s largest circulation daily newspaper, on Thursday and Friday.
The newspaper stories centre on an investigation last year by three cardinals into a scandal involving leaks from the Vatican.
La Repubblica, citing unnamed sources familiar with the investigation, alleged that the investigation revealed a series of scandals involving sex, money and power that touch cardinals, priests and lay people that work in the Vatican.
Vatican spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi declined to comment on La Repubblica’s article in a media briefing on Thursday.
CNN Senior Vatican Analyst John Allen, also a correspondent with the National Catholic Reporter, suggested in a piece written Friday that unsourced speculation about a shadowy “gay lobby” within the Vatican should be taken with a grain of salt.
But, he said, while he doesn’t know for sure if the three cardinals did investigate networks based on sexual orientation, “frankly, it would be a little surprising if they hadn’t” — given past scandals that have become public concerning clergy involved in homosexual activities.
The pope may well have been worn down by the “cumulative impact of the various meltdowns over the last eight years,” Allen said.
“However,” he added, “it’s probably a stretch to draw a straight line between all of this and Benedict’s resignation. 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.”