Monday, February 25, 2013

Pope says Vatileaks probe will stay secret, adding intrigue to final days

As Pope Benedict XVI prepares to step down from his position in a matter of days, Italian newspapers are reporting rumors of blackmail and conspiracy. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.
By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

A potentially explosive report into embarrassing leaks from the Vatican will be seen by only two people — Pope Benedict XVI and the man who succeeds him.

Italian newspapers have already angered the Vatican by suggesting that the report found evidence of corruption, blackmail and a gay sex ring, and that it triggered Benedict’s decision earlier this month to give up the papacy. The Vatican said in a statement Monday that Benedict, who commissioned the report on leaks from three cardinals, is the only person who knows its contents and will make them available only to the next pope.

The pontiff also praised the cardinals for showing "the generosity, honesty and dedication of those who work in the Holy See," considering "the limitations and imperfections of the human component of each institution."

Over the weekend, the Vatican took the unusual step of lashing out at the Italian press — accusing it of "unverifiable or completely false news stories" designed to influence the conclave that will pick the next pope.

Father Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church," said that Benedict’s decision to keep the report secret was not a surprise.

"The Vatican doesn’t like to do its laundry in public," he said.

In any event, he added, the new pope could always decide to make the report public. Benedict’s decision simply gives him cover in case he wants to keep it private, Reese said.

Slideshow: The life of Pope Benedict XVI

Javier Barbancho / AFP - Getty Images
Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Look back at his life from childhood through his papacy.
Launch slideshow

The pope ordered the report on what has become known as the Vatileaks scandal last year after documents became public that deeply embarrassed the church, including some of Benedict’s own correspondence and letters alleging corruption.

Benedict pardoned the ex-butler, Paolo Gabriele, just before Christmas.

The pope, 85, announced earlier this month that he would abdicate, the first leader of the Catholic Church to do so since the Middle Ages. His last day is Thursday. A conclave to pick successor begins next month.

The decision to keep the leaks report secret adds a layer of intrigue to what has already been a tumultuous papal transition.

Just Monday, the most senior cleric in Britain, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, resigned after The Observer newspaper reported that three priests and a former priest had accused him of inappropriate behavior going back 30 years.

Also Monday, the pope changed Vatican law to allow his successor to be picked sooner — as soon as all the voting cardinals are in place in Rome. Under previous law, the conclave could not have begun before March 15.

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