A heavy, wet snow fell over the Vatican Friday night creating a deep sense of gloom and doom around the small city-state following a shocking front page story Friday morning revealing a plot to kill the Pope. The news story was the culmination of what appears to be vicious infighting behind Vatican walls.
The Italian daily “Il Fatto Quotidiano” headline read “Plot to Kill the Pope, Within 12 Months He Will Die.” The newspaper then had four full pages describing a bizarre series of events that did not exactly seem to add up to a plot to kill the Pope.
In the mysterious world of the Vatican, back-stabbing, plotting and conspiring, especially in the final years of a papacy, is not new. But the level the intrigues have reached over the past few weeks have left the most cynical heads spinning.
The “Fatto Quotidiano” article explained that the Cardinal from Palermo, Sicily, Archbishop Paolo Romeo went on a whirlwind five-day private visit to China and came back to declare that the Pope would die within the year and Benedict XVI himself was grooming the Cardinal of Milan, Angelo Scola, to be his replacement. This message was given to a retired Colombian Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos, who had a letter delivered to the Pope in German explaining the alleged plot.
The Pope’s spokesman immediately issued a statement declaring that it was all “so completely beyond reality and hardly serious that I don’t even want to consider it.”
Vatican analysts have rushed to agree that the idea of a plot to kill the Pope is not serious, but the Vaticanisti (journalist dedicated to covering the Vatican) agree that behind the Vatican walls, the knives are out and they are long and sharp. A power struggle is underway at the Vatican and at the center of the struggle appears to be the No. 2 figure at the Vatican, the Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.
The assassination plot report comes one week after an Italian TV show revealed that the Bishop who had been effectively running the Vatican city state was been sent off to Washington to be the Pope’s Ambassador there to get him out of the way. The TV show revealed letters from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’ to the Pope complaining of the transfer indicating that he had been pushed aside after discovering corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts and attempting to clean it up.
There have been other revelations regarding the Vatican Bank, IOR, (Institute for Religious Works) and reports of millions of euros being transferred to a bank in Germany to avoid new checks by the Bank of Italy. The Vatican has been trying to improve the transparency of its financial institutions and transactions in order to get onto the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) “White List” of nations that comply with global norms on transparency.
Intrigues at the Vatican are not new, what is surprising to people in Rome, is how it has spilled out with gossip, dirt and ugly revelations in the press.
On February 18, Cardinals from all over the world are to descend on Rome for a Consistory during which 22 men will be made Cardinals in an elaborate ceremony in which Pope Benedict XVI will place a new red Cardinal’s berretta on their head and each one will receive a new Cardinal’s ring.
Benedict XVI is 84-years-old and in apparently good health. He is feeling strong enough that he is planning a trip this spring to Mexico and Cuba, but nonetheless, others are thinking about who will succeed him and there will be plenty of discrete, Cardinal-style campaigning going on during February’s Consistory.
When the Cardinals arrive from abroad this coming week, they will find the highest officials at the Vatican engaged in a brutal battle, and unable to focus on the massive challenges that the Catholic Church faces around the globe.
The scandals would make good material for a movie – they’ve managed to net a Cardinal from Sicily, a secretive mission to China, an Ambassador to Washington, and Cardinals from Colombia and Milan, all that with a fragile, intellectual Pope holed up in a Vatican under a blanket of snow.