This much is confirmed: Pope Benedict XVI received a secret report from a commission consisting of three cardinals he had appointed to investigate the leak of confidential Vatican documents. "The commission has done its work," a spokesman for the Vatican said. Did the contents of that report so dishearten Benedict that he decided to renounce the papacy? The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, responded this way to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica when it made this connection: "We are not running after all the speculation or the fantasies or the opinions that are being expressed on this issue." And, he said, the three cardinals had agreed not to give out any information. (Translation improvements gratefully accepted.) So, as we used to say in the press room, the lid is on.To say the least, this report sounds intriguing. As Inside the Vatican Editor Robert Moynihan put it in his email newsletter, "Today a veil of secrecy was shredded in this eternal city." But what it means is unclear for, as Moynihan wrote, "It is a story that in many ways seems the plot of a novel."In a story on the report, La Repubblica quoted a source who said it describes violations of the sixth and seventh commandments - allegations of homosexuality and theft - involving a supposed scheme by outsiders to gain influence within the Vatican by blackmailing officials who are gay. The report was said to have been written by three cardinals - Salvatore De Giorgi, Julian Herranz, and Josef Tomko. (All are over 80, too old to vote in the upcoming conclave.)The story isn't on a very strong foundation; it's based on an unidentified source's recounting of a few portions of the report rather than on the report itself. It follows an article in the Italian magazine Panorama by a noted writer on the Vatican, Ignazio Ingrao, who wrote that the report mapped out a who's who of Vatican infighting. Ingrao also has been quoted as saying that La Repubblica misrepresented his scoop to make the pope look bad. Nonetheless, Ingrao predicts that the report will weigh on the minds of the cardinals during the conclave.It's hard to know what to make of all this. The news story could well have some accurate facts about what's in the report but still be terribly exaggerated. To say that the report drove Benedict to resign likely oversimplifies the situation, as David Gibson notes. But as long as there is no official account from the Holy See about the contents of the report, unofficial and perhaps highly biased versions of what's in it will fill the void, perhaps as a result of tips circulated by competing factions within the Vatican. The impulse to secrecy won't work now, any better than it did when the Vatileaks scandal broke.It looks as if Pope Benedict was serious about finding out the truth. The next pope will decide whether to let the faithful in on it.Update: The Vatican's Secretariat of State issued a statement Saturday lamenting that unverified or even false news reports are circulating. The statement viewed the news reports as part of an attempt to influence the way cardinals vote in the upcoming conclave, saying that much as state authorities once tried to apply pressure to the process of selecting a pope, now public opinion is being used.Interessante.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.