PAPAL RESIGNATION: Is the Pope gambling that a younger man can win back the Church’s soul?

Doubts grow about motives for ‘retiring’ as Italian and Greek sources offer further clues

ben16Smoke gets in your eyes?

If I recall correctly, it was some time in May last year that a reliable and generous media tipster for The Slog, now largely retired, told me to start looking more closely at financial corruption within the Vatican, and the emergence of a powerful clique using the Papacy’s assumed innocence as a front for its activities. I did note what he said, and I did use a Roman contact to fill me in on anything of relevance. But as so often happens in a world where the unexpected has become commonplace (and invention almost ubiquitous) I moved onto urgent stories and ignored the importance of that one. Big mistake.

Having arrived to a techno-blackout here in France, three days into it I (briefly) got a signal on my mobile and texted a close friend in London to ask what, if anything, of significance had happened. ‘The Pope has resigned’ said the reply. ‘Very funny’ I texted back.  Later that day, having established it was true, I drove over to a friend’s house and went online to read the coverage. As so often with the British press, the vast majority of the coverage was respectful and concerned about the Pope’s health. I simply couldn’t believe that such a historically unique event was being written about in a way that almost suggested normality.

Unable to post normally, I sent one email to a friend travelling in Africa. It said:

‘Jon Sopel was discussing on BBCNews how the Catholic world would deal with having an ex-Pope and a real Pope alive at the same time…..the main thing I’d like to know is why he allowed himself to get elected…and then resigned. This sort of makes him the Richard Nixon of the Papacy, but nobody in the MSM is about to ask anyone what expletives or break-ins might have contributed to his decision. Se there we are: Pope resigns, nothing to see here.’

Now, eventually – over the last few days – a more realistic look behind the scenes has emerged in the Italian media. La Repubblica’s respected Vatican expert Ignazio Ingrao has claimed that Benedict XVI resigned rather than face the backwash from a scandal related to money-laundering (via the Vatican’s bank IOR) and a gay sex ring among the Cardinals.

Although Inside the Vatican editor Robert Moynihan said in a recent newsletter that “today a veil of secrecy was shredded in this eternal city” much doubt has been expressed in the Catholic media as to the story’s validity – particularly as Ingrao’s main source is unnamed. Having looked more closely at the situation, I don’t think the dismissive attitude is at all justified. Having spoken to a Greek friend with a strong interest in the matter (and returned to my original Italian source) there seems to me to be a pretty clear timeline….and it doesn’t sit at all well with Vatican spin. Further, if the Pope’s ‘failing health’ is to remain as the game-changer here, then I suggest the pontiff should be working harder on his role: he doesn’t look or sound like a bloke losing it.

The path to resignation begins properly last Autumn, with Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, being found guilty of stealing sensitive Papal documents from the Pope’s apartments. The Slog’s Roman source takes up the story:

“The Pope realised very quickly that there was more to the theft than personal greed. Gabriele was being blackmailed. Not only did the butler admit this in private, but the nature of the documents was enough on its own to point in that direction. Benedict is a very bright philosopher and analyst….he knew this was bigger than just a light-fingered butler.”

The Pope quickly called a top secret meeting with three key Vatican allies, and demanded that a full report – for his eyes only – be produced. Most sources name the three cardinals as Salvatore De Giorgi, Julian Herranz, and Josef Tomko. They produced the report by December 17th, and as my source alleges, “it confirmed Benedict’s worst fears of a rotten and widespread clique working towards its own criminal ends. He decided within days to resign on the basis of it”.

From what can be pieced together thus far as to the contents of the report (the next human being to read it will be the new Pope) there seems to have been a gay and/or possibly paedophile element in the Vatican – a group behind the ferocious attempts to smear complainants against paedophile priests and evidence of what La Republicca calls ‘wordly sexual activities’ by them. Sadly, the financial operators within and without IOR appear to have used evidence of such proclivities to get their business done, and done without detection.

Far from being separate cancers within the Vatican, the two scandals are thus entirely mutually dependent: deviants within the Cardinal’s College have been recorded at their work, and forced to do dirty money-laundering work by the men behind it. It all looks very messy, and – having gained a glimpse of the size of the disaster – Benedict XVI resigned. But there remain three theories as to why he did so.

The first is that the pontiff simply cut and ran away from something which would, eventually, implicate him. There isn’t a shred of evidence to support this, and in the light of him having commissioned the urgent report in the first place, such a possibility seems counter-intuitive. It is also out of character for a man who, spanning five decades, has argued tirelessly that the Church needed deep-cleaned renewal in a world where the bad guys seemed to be more and more in control of things.

The second is that Benedict was about to move against the perpetrators, and purge the College of everyone involved. However, he was very quickly appraised, by person or persons as yet unknown, of how the money-launderers would pull down the entire Church around his head by releasing every last grisly detail of the sexual abnormalities involved. While this too is largely supposition, it isn’t anywhere near complete conspiracy theory fantasy: why, for example, are the spokespeople in the Vatican clearly lying about when the Pope made his mind up to go?

The third is that the pontiff saw the size of the task facing him….and decided very shrewdly to hand it over to a younger but equally radical ally. Although not spelt out to this extent, the National Catholic Reporter broadly supports the hypothesis when it writes, ‘he knows that putting things right inside the Vatican will take a tremendous investment of administrative energy, which he doesn’t feel he can supply, and which probably isn’t in his skill set in any event.’

Which of these alternatives (or others) one believes will ultimately be settled by two things: first, who the Cardinals elect in terms of age, closeness to Benedict, and attitude; and second, a closer analysis of how and why the Vatican media machine is churning out defensive bollocks.

There is no shortage of examples illustrating what I mean by that. The deteriorating “strength of mind and body” cited in the Papal resignation announcement received little or nothing in the way of critique. Yet only two days later, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a complex yet lucid 46-minute long public talk, working only occasionally from notes and in the absence of any preparatory text.

In December, Vatican spin-doctor Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said Pope Benedict’s fourth encyclical would be released in the first half of 2013. Treating the subject of faith, the encyclical would complete a trilogy on the three “theological virtues,” following “Deus Caritas Est” (2005) on charity, and “Spe Salvi” (2007) on hope. Suddenly, this isn’t going to happen. Here was a fighter for fundamental values abandoning the most prominent teaching project of his pontificate….even though it is already largely completed.

I’m also deeply indebted to the research carried out by a hugely reliable Greek source, whose scholastic knowledge of things ecclesiastical is far greater than mine. This source pointed out this press report to me (my emphasis):

‘The pontiff arrived for his final address to Rome’s clergy. Before the Pope’s talk, the several thousand priests in the Vatican’s audience hall greeted him with a standing ovation and a shout of “Long live the Pope!” Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the vicar of Rome, then read a short tribute to the Pope, likening the occasion to the departure of St Paul from Ephesus in the Acts of the Apostles.’

Digging out the New Testament Ephesus account, my contact notes this passage (my emphasis}:

“And now you see me a prisoner already in spirit; I am on my way to Jerusalem, but have no idea what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit, in town after town, has made it clear enough that imprisonment and persecution await me. But life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish my race I have carried out the mission that the Lord Jesus gave me – and that was to bear witness to the Good News of God’s grace…..Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you the overseers, to feed the Church of God which he bought with his own blood. I know quite well that when I am gone fierce wolves will invade you and have no mercy on the flock. Even from your own ranks there will be men coming forward with a travesty of the truth on their lips to induce the disciples to follow them. So be on your guard, remembering how night and day for three years I never failed to keep you right, shedding tears over each one of you.”
This is an astonishingly apt reference, and certainly leaves one with the impression that here was a College ally of Benedict XVI throwing down the gauntlet to any in the crooked clique expecting to emerge victorious from the forthcoming election.

As I suggest above, the identity of his successor will give out a clear sign as to which ‘side’ has won. For whatever the See’s PR machine tries to say, there is a battle going on at the top of the Catholic Church for its heart and soul. Drugs, possible sexual deviancy and financial wrongdoing do not sit well with the idea of Rome as the believers’ support in times of hardship. This is shaping up to be yet another example of how perverted privilege can triumph. We should all look at the runners and riders very carefully.

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