Vatican attacks 'false' reports

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to Cardinals during the closing day of the Spiritual Exercises at the Vatican today. Photograph: Reuters

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to Cardinals during the closing day of the Spiritual Exercises at the Vatican today. Photograph: Reuters

Sat, Feb 23, 2013, 00:00

In an unprecedented document, the Holy See has today firmly denounced any attempt to condition the forthcoming Conclave which next month will elect the successor to Benedict XVI.

A communiqué from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State emphatically rejected pressure from “public opinion that is often based on judgements that do not typically capture the spiritual aspect of the moment that the Church is living".

Arguing that the Catholic Church has always defended the freedom of the College of Cardinals when it comes to electing a Pope, the Holy See statement suggests that while in the past, the pressures exerted on the Cardinals in Conclave came from rival states, today they come from public opinion, adding:

“It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the Conclave and the Cardinal electors will be held in conscience and before God, to freely indicate their choice, that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories, that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”

The Holy See communiqué appears to be a reaction to persistent Italian media speculation this week which has claimed, among other things, that Pope Benedict’s decision to resign may have been at least partly influenced by an internal Vatican report highlighting rivalries, tensions and the “inappropriate influence” of a gay lobby within the Holy See. The report compiled by three elderly Cardinals – Herranz, Di Giorgi and Tomko – was submitted to the Pope last December 17th.

Speaking on Vatican Radio today, papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi touched a similar theme when he complained that critics were taking advantage of this peculiar moment to use “slander, disinformation and calumny” to exercise “unacceptable pressures” on the Cardinals in Conclave.

It comes as no surprise that the Secretariat of State should issue such a statement. No one has been more criticised in recent years than the Secretary Of State himself, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, considered by many to have abused his powers as de facto Vatican Prime Minister, in the process availing of Benedict’s almost total lack of political savvy.

Those same critics point to a series of “fin de regime” appointments made in the last few days, involving the Vatican Bank IOR and other posts, as further testimony to the overweaning influence of Cardinal Bertone.

Commentators argue that the nomination yesterday of deputy Foreign Minister, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, as Papal Nuncio to Colombia is precisely one such appointment. Archbishop Balestrero was a close aide of Cardinal Bertone and was responsible for handling many delicate issues such as the Holy See’s relations with China, with the European Union and with the Bank Of Italy and the Vatican Bank, IOR.

Diplomatic sources point out, however, that the timing of Archbishop Balestrero’s nomination was probably a mere co-incidence, given that for diplomatic reasons such appointments have to be communicated to the country in question some time in advance.