Today a veil of secrecy was shredded in this eternal city.
Today therefore marked the beginning of a difficult, important struggle for the purification of the government of the Church desired for so many years by Joseph Ratzinger.
We were given a glimpse today into some of the reasons, previously unknown, that prompted Pope Benedict XVI to announce his resignation on February 11, to take effect February 28, in seven days, reasons that apparently "overwhelmed his spirit within him" and "made his heart desolate."
It is a story that in many ways seems the plot of a novel.
It is a story of blackmail and betrayal at the highest levels of the Church, and, allegedly, of a homosexual lobby organized within the Vatican to influence and obtain important decisions.
To recount this story, I will simply set forth how I learned about it, in the course of an ordinary day in Rome.
"What Can You Tell Me About the American Cardinals?"
I began my day at 6 a.m., editing a book I am preparing on one of the cardinals whom I admire greatly. (I had not expected the conclave to come so soon, and had expected to prepare the book at a more leisurely pace for publication later this year.)
At 9:45 a.m., I went to the Vatican and shortly after 10 a.m. met for 30 minutes with a European cardinal who will be going into the Conclave in a few days, a good and wise man who might himself be a candidate to be the next Pope.
He asked me a number of questions about the American cardinals. I answered as cautiously and as truthfully as I could.
The cardinal's questions, and his interest in my remarks, made clear to me that the cardinals themselves may be trying to understand each other, in order to understand who among them may have the qualities of a strong, effective, global leader for the Church in this unprecedented time.
At 10:50 a.m., I walked into the press office, greeted Salvatore Izzo as he sat typing in the first booth (I regard him as one of the leading Vaticanisti), greeted Ania Artymiak, who writes for Inside the Vatican, and then greeted Paddy Agnew from Dublin, Ireland, correspondent for the Irish Times, whom I have known since the 1980s.
Paddy was busily typing away. Next to his computer, spread out on the large table in the center of the press office, was an Italian newspaper opened to p. 17.
It was a full-page story about something related to the Vatican. There was a large picture of Pope Benedict and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and three smaller photos.
The striking thing was that Paddy had marked almost every single paragraph of the story with colored markers, some in yellow, some in red, some in blue.
"What's that?" I asked. "Something important?"
"Read it," he said, typing away. "It's from this morning's La Repubblica. Someone has leaked the results of the cardinals' commission investigation..."
(Note: La Repubblica of Rome is a sort of center-left paper founded in the mid-1970s along with three other papers of a similar outlook: El Pais in Madrid, Spain; Liberation in Paris, France; and The Independent in London, England. I'm not saying there was a relationship between the papers, or that the same people were behind all of them, just making the observation that they were all founded at nearly the same time, and all have more or less the same, secular humanist, line, and all in some way helped prepare the way for the development of the European Union as it exists today.)
I looked at the headline: "Non fornicare, non rubare" -- i due commandamenti violati nel dossier che sconvolge il Papa ("Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal" -- the two commandments violated in the dossier that shocked the Pope").
I looked at the sub-title: "Lotte di potere e denaro. E l'ipotesi di una lobby gay." ("Fights for power and money. And the hypothesis of a gay lobby.")
And I saw a sentence, highlighted in yellow, at the center of the article: "La Relazione e esplicita. Alcuni alti prelati subiscono 'l'influenza esterna' -- noi diremmo il ricatto -- di laici a cui sono legati da vincoli di 'natura mondana.'" ("The Report is explicit. A number of high-ranking prelates are being subjected to 'external influence' -- we would say blackmail -- from laypeople to whom they are linked by ties of a 'worldly nature.'")
"Blackmail?" I said.
"That's what they are saying," Paddy replied.
I looked at the three smaller photos in the article:
"Marco Simeon, 33 anni, ex direttore delle relazioni istituzionali e internazionali della Rai" (Marco Simeon (photo left), 33, director of institutional and internationals relations at RAI, the Italian national television network);
"Ettore Balestrero, 47 anni, sotto-segretario ai Rapporti con gli stati della segretaria del Vaticano" (Ettore Balestrero, 47, under-secretary of Relations with States of the Vatican Secretariat of State);
"Rene Bruelhart, 40 anni, direttore dell'Autorita di informazione finanziaria della Santa Sede" (Rene Bruelhart (photo, bottom), 40, director of the Authority of Financial Information of the Holy See).
The essence of the article was this. Pope Benedict last year had asked three cardinals to investigate the "Vatileaks" affair. He had chosen three cardinals older than age 80 -- Julian Herranz, Josef Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi -- to conduct the investigation. They had begun their work last April, even before the Vatileaks scandal really "broke" in May. They were given the authority to summon any Vatican official, including other cardinals, to be questioned.
(Monsignor Ettore Balestero)
The three, evidently with a small but dedicated staff to help them, worked all year, interviewing dozens of officials. Their investigation paralleled the investigation of the Vatican police, but was of an even higher level, since the three cardinals could also interview other cardinals.
Each session began with the same set of questions, and then additional questions were asked related to the specific work of each official. (So, these sessions were very well prepared.)
Each session was recorded and then transcribed.
Eventually, the cardinals were able to compare testimony, see patterns, find connections, drawn flow charts.
The members of the Curia were charted according to their region of origin, their religious orders, and also identified as part of (or not part of) "a network across all groups based on sexual orientation" ("una rete trasversale accomunata dall'orientamento sessuale").
On December 17, the three cardinals submitted their report to Pope Benedict. The report was some 300 pages long, and there was only one copy. And that copy is in the possession of the Pope.
Eight weeks later, the Pope resigned his office, saying there was a need for a younger, stronger man to carry out the needed work of the papacy...
"Ok," I said to Paddy. "I'll go out and buy my own copy of the paper."
I walked out of the press office and ran immediately into Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins (he is now 81, so he will not vote in the Conclave). I have known him for many years. Since he is from Portugal, and knew Sister Lucy personally, we have spoken on occasion about the apparitions at Fatima in 1917, about the "Third Secret" of Fatima, and about the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
It was Saraiva Martins who, as Prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, announced in Coimbra, Portugal (where Sister Lucy lived and died), in February 2008 that Pope Benedict had authorized the opening of Lucy's cause of beatification, revealing at the same time that she left a series of important unpublished writings.
“Since the death of Sister Lucia, it has been obvious how much the reputation of holiness of this humble nun has spread throughout Portugal and the rest of the world,” the cardinal said, explaining Benedict’s decision to suspend the five-year waiting period before beginning the process of beatification. (She died in 2005, just a few weeks before Pope John Paul II.)
"Your eminence," I said. "Bella giornata" ("beautiful day").
"Yes, it is," he said.
We spoke for several minutes. Then I recalled the reason I had left the press office.
"There is news today in the Italian press," I said. "Evidently something has been leaked regarding the results of the Vatileaks investigation carried out by the three cardinals."
"Oh?" he said, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, we don't yet know the accuracy of the report, but there is a full page today in La Repubblica. Apparently there is even talk of some curial officials being blackmailed... I'm going over to the kiosk now to buy a copy of the paper. If you would like, I'll buy a second copy for you."
"Please do," he said.
While we were speaking, Italian journalist Iacopo Scaramuzzi, another excellent Vaticanist, came up. He waited respectfully a few steps away, and came up when I nodded to him and stepped away toward the kiosk. I bought the two copies of La Repubblica. When I returned, Scaramuzzi was asking Saraiva Martins questions about the Pope's resignation, about the Pope's mood during these days of Spiritual Exercises, and about the qualities of spirit and character that the next Pope will need.
As the two spoke, a reporter and cameraman from Associated Press walked up. "May we?" they asked, with the camera already rolling. For a while they filmed the conversation, and then the AP journalist broke in, asking if Saraiva Martins had read the news that had broken that morning in La Repubblica, about the alleged blackmail of Vatican officials. Saraiva Martins glanced at me, holding the two copies of the paper, then said, "No, I cannot make any comment on that. I haven't yet read the article."
A moment later, the interview was over, and Saraiva Martins and I began to walk away toward his residence nearby. I waited until we were under the colonnade opposite the press office, in front of the Ancora bookstore, then handed him the second copy of La Repubblica. He thanked me and he said we could speak again after the end of the Spiritual Exercises on Saturday.
Back in the press office, Paddy Agnew was already completing his story. This is what he wrote -- clearly, succinctly, without extraneous detail:
Pope's decision 'partly prompted' by claims over influence of gay lobby
PADDY AGNEW, in Rome
Italian daily La Repubblica this morning sensationally claims that Pope Benedict's resignation was at least partly prompted by an internal report prepared by three senior cardinals, alleging that various lobbies, including a gay lobby, exercise an "inappropriate influence" in internal Holy See affairs.
The newspaper suggests that such was Benedict’s dismay when presented with the details of the report on December 17th that it hardened his long-meditated decision to resign. The internal report prepared by Cardinals Julian Herranz, Josef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi had been commissioned by Benedict himself.
He had ordered it in response to the so-called Vatileaks scandal which culminated with the arrest and subsequent conviction last autumn of the Pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, found guilty of having stolen confidential documents from the papal apartment.
In this morning's article, it is claimed that the cardinals reported that various lobbies within the Holy See were consistently breaking the sixth and seventh commandments, namely "thou shalt not steal" and "thou shalt not commit adultery".
The "stealing" was in particular related to the Vatican Bank, IOR, whilst the sexual offences were related to the influence of an active gay lobby within the Vatican.
Last week, when presiding over the Ash Wednesday celebrations in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict spoke of "divisions" which "besmirch" the face of the church. In a famous homily at the 2005 Via Crucis Easter celebrations in Rome, just days before the death of John Paul II, the then Cardinal Ratzinger had spoken of the "filth" in the church, a comment interpreted by many as a reference to the worldwide clerical abuse scandal.
However, La Repubblica claims the cardinals' 300 page report speaks of "Impropriam Influentiam" on the part of various lobbies, some of them of a "worldly nature", reflecting an "outside influence". The Rome daily recalls the figure of papal gentleman, Angelo Balducci, accused three years ago of being a member of a gay ring active within the Vatican and involving choristers and seminarians.
The paper does not explain the source of its information on the cardinals report nor does it provide a direct quotation from any part of the report. Rather it claims that its findings are based on information received from an unnamed Vatican source.
A Vatican spokesman this morning had no comment to make on the allegations.
I realized I needed to sit down and read the article through still more carefully. With no sources cited, there was a risk that it was inaccurate, or wildly exaggerated. And I wondered who had gotten the story.
I looked at the author's name: Concita De Gregorio.
"Who's that?" I asked Izzo.
"She's not a Vaticanist," he said. "But that is one of the best pieces she's ever written." He gave a thumbs up signal. "However, it's actually based on a piece by Ignazio Ingrao which appeared yesterday in Panorama."
"Ah!" I said.
Now I was getting the genealogy of the story.
So, I needed to read the Panorama article and then... talk to Ingrao.
(to be continued)
Robert Moynihan PhD is the editor of Inside the Vatican, from where this article is adapted