Retirement conspiracy theories flounder

Pope Benedict nods off at a Mass in 2010. photograph: darrin zammit lupi/reuters

Pope Benedict nods off at a Mass in 2010. photograph: darrin zammit lupi/reuters

Sat, Feb 23, 2013, 00:00

Q:What are the real reasons for Pope Benedict's resignation?

It has become, as the newspaper advertisement goes, “the story of why”. Or, rather, “why?” has become the story.

As the shock wore off after Pope Benedict’s announcement on February 11th last that he was to resign, it was inevitable there would be dedicated souls who would seek out the true reasons for his extraordinary abdication.

It was far too simple to accept his own explanation that: “In order to govern the barque of St Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which, in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

To quote Shakespeare: “Old age? Pshaw.” You might as well believe Pope John Paul I died of natural causes when everyone knows he was poisoned as part of a Vatican power play.

Blood pressure

It began gently. There was the story of Pope Benedict’s fall in Mexico during his visit there in March 2012. That emerged in the days immediately after the resignation announcement.

Rome paper Il Messaggero noted the pope had arthritis and high blood pressure. Financial journal Il Sole 24 Ore said he had a heart operation last autumn. Ho hum.

Even that story was ruined when Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said it was a routine heart operation during which the battery on Benedict’s pacemaker was changed. Time to dig deeper.

Enter Vatileaks, or “what the butler saw”. The so-called Vatileaks scandal culminated last year in the arrest and conviction of the pope’s butler Paolo Gabriele. He was found guilty of stealing confidential documents from the papal apartment and leaking them to a journalist. The resultant story suggested intrigue at the highest levels in the Vatican.

Ah, yes . . .

Which is where Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown came in. Could any story of high Vatican intrigue be complete without Dan Brown? Of all people it was Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, himself said to be at the centre of so much intrigue, who insisted the Vatileaks story was the result of journalists “pretending to be Dan Brown . . .”

As if . . . Or, the cardinal added, it was the work of the “devil”. Some in Rome would not be so nuanced. They see the work of that unholy trinity – journalists, Dan Brown and the devil – as of a kind.

Missing ingredient

Still our dogged truth-seekers weren’t satisfied.

Then last Thursday delivered the missing ingredient, sex. It was the gays what dun it. Italian daily La Repubblica reported that the activities of a gay lobby in the Vatican partly prompted Benedict to go.

However, and despite the “liturgy and lace” character of this papacy, as so described by an eminent Irish Catholic, this gay lobby has been, to date, one of the most unsuccessful lobby groups ever.

Along with women, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, liberal Catholics and thinking priests, Benedict provided a particularly cold house for gays.

Maybe they got him in the end? But, from personal observation last week, this reporter can say with confidence the pope’s own explanation seems the true one.

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