Slate February 22 2013
Pope Benedict XVI is a little more than two weeks away from beginning his retirement at the Castel Gandolfo, but his final days as head of the Catholic church don’t look like they’re going to be quiet ones. Unsourced reports coming out of Italy suggest that the pope decided to call it quits not because of his old age but instead to avoid the fallout that could come from a secret 300-page dossier compiled by three cardinals he tapped to look into last year’s leak of confidential papers stolen from his desk.
Those papers, widely known as the “VatiLeaks,” raised questions of financial impropriety and corruption at the Vatican. The investigation that followed, however, may prove even more uncomfortable for church officials.
The secret dossier allegedly details a wide range of infighting among various factions in the Vatican’s governing body, known as the Curia. But the headline-ready takeaway from today’s report from La Repubblica concerns the existence of one faction in particular, a network of gay church officials. Just in case that weren’t enough to pique international interest, the Italian newspaper also reports that some of said officials had been blackmailed by outsiders. According to the report, the pope got his first look at the dossier—”two folders hard-bound in red” with the header “pontifical secret”—on Dec. 17, and decided that same day to retire.
Now’s a good time to take a step back and offer a few disclaimers. For starters, the Vatican has repeatedly dismissed the reports as baseless. The story from La Repubblica that is driving the allegations is unsourced, so it’s difficult to tell how much stock to put into the whole thing. (There’s also the fact that, it being an Italian-language paper, there’s always a chance of some of the details getting lost in translation.) Still, it appears as though at least one other Italian newspaper, the weekly Panorama, has a similar report—although its unnamed sources could very well be the same as La Repubblica’s. A third Italian paper, Corriere della Sera, alluded to the existence of the secret dossier soon after Benedict announced his resignation earlier this month, describing its contents as “disturbing” but providing few details.