VATICAN CITY The Vatican lashed out Saturday at the media for what it said has been a run of defamatory and false reports before the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI’s successor, saying they were an attempt to influence the election.
Italian newspapers have been rife with unsourced reports in recent days about the contents of a secret dossier prepared for the pope by three cardinals who investigated the origins of the 2012 scandal over leaked Vatican documents.
The reports have suggested the revelations in the dossier, given to Benedict in December, were a factor in his decision to resign. The pope himself has said merely that he doesn’t have the “strength of mind and body” to carry on and would resign Feb. 28.
On Saturday, a day before Benedict’s final Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican secretariat of state said the Catholic Church has for centuries insisted on the independence of its cardinals to freely elect their pope — a reference to episodes in the past when kings and emperors vetoed papal contenders or prevented cardinals from voting outright.
“If in the past, the so-called powers, i.e., States, exerted pressures on the election of the pope, today there is an attempt to do this through public opinion that is often based on judgments that do not typically capture the spiritual aspect of the moment that the church is living,” the statement said.
“It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the conclave ... that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi was asked how specifically the media was trying to influence the outcome; Lombardi didn’t respond directly, saying only that the reports have tended to paint the Curia in a negative light “beyond the considerations and serene evaluations” of problems that cardinals might discuss before the conclave.
Some Vatican watchers have speculated that because the Vatican bureaucracy is heavily Italian, cardinals might be persuaded to elect a non-Italian, non-Vatican-based cardinal as pope to try to impose some reform on the Curia.
While Lombardi has said the reports “do not correspond to reality,” the pope and some of his closest collaborators have recently denounced the dysfunction in the Apostolic Palace.