Two Italian publications, La Repubblica and Panorama, have reported that a confidential report given to Pope Benedict, part of which refers to a network of homosexual clerics working within the Vatican, led to the pontiff’s decision to resign the papacy. Though Catholic journalists confirm the likely existence of the scandal, most disagree that Pope Benedict is retiring because of it.
The scandal, referred to as “Vatileaks,” concerns the conduct of the pope’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was convicted and jailed for stealing confidential documents from the Vatican. It is unclear how much of the voluminous report alludes to statements by a commission of three cardinals providing evidence that a homosexual network existed among officials of the Roman Curia, and that some Vatican officials were subject to blackmail.
Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, told journalists, “There will be no comment, denials or confirmation of what has been written in an Italian newspaper,” Lombardi said. He added that the three cardinals who were members of the commission delivered their report privately to Pope Benedict, and that the report would be passed on to his successor.
Nevertheless, in a conversation with German Catholic journalist Peter Seewald, who wrote a book on the pontiff in 2010 based on extensive interviews with him, Pope Benedict remarked on the betrayal of his butler, saying, “To me it is simply incomprehensible. I cannot fathom this psychology.”
Members of the Vatican inner circle have commented that the pontiff was deeply hurt by the betrayal of his trust by a key member of his personal staff and have suggested that the scandal was a factor that prompted the pope’s decision to resign the papacy.
In an interview published in Germany’s Focus magazine, however, Seewald reported that he asked Pope Benedict last August how the “Vatileaks” scandal had affected him.
The pontiff seemed to downplay the impact of the scandal, related Seewald, saying, “It is not as though I were somehow falling into a kind of desperation or world-weariness.”
Instead, it appears the pope was focused more on whether his physical stamina would allow him to continue in his ministry. When Seewald asked Pope Benedict what more people could expect of his papacy, the pope responded, “From me? Not much more. I’m an old man and my strength is diminishing. And I think what I have done is enough.”
Asked if he had considered resigning, Pope Benedict said, “That depends to what extent my physical strength will compel me to.”
Seewald’s book about the pope, Light of the World, quoted Benedict as saying:
If a pope clearly realises that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right, and under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.
Seewald reported that when he met with the pontiff several weeks ago, he found him exhausted. He indicated that the pope is losing his hearing, appears to be blind in one eye, and has lost a great deal of weight.
Philip Lawler, editor of Catholic World News (CWN), states that there is little hard evidence of the content of the “Vatileaks” report. Lawler asserts:
Before we analyze the reports, let’s pause for a moment and notice how little hard evidence has been presented. All of the hundreds of speculative reports now circulating in the mass media are based on two Italian news stories. Those stories, in turn, rely on the reporters’ assertions, unsupported and unconfirmed, about the contents of the “Vatileaks” report. For all we know those assertions could be completely groundless. Even if they are (more or less) accurate, they could be highly exaggerated. The allusion to a homosexual network might have occupied just a few paragraphs in a voluminous final report. We don’t know.
While Lawler writes that it is probable that the commission of three cardinals did find evidence of homosexual activity among officials of the Roman Curia, he is certain that Pope Benedict would not resign simply to avoid a tough problem, even if his actions would have been perceived as unpopular.
“This Pope is no coward,” Lawler states. “He is not a man to run away from a problem. But there is a limit to his strength and he has reached it.”
John Allen, Senior Correspondent for National Catholic Reporter, reports that, while the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, in not a “scandal sheet,” he finds the “gay lobby” story difficult to assess because it was written by an unfamiliar source, a journalist who is not a “regular” among the usual Vatican writers.
Regarding the content of the newspaper story, Allen writes that the possibility of networks inside the Vatican based on sexual preference is not surprising.
“It would seem odd if the cardinals didn’t at least consider the possibility that somebody with a big secret to hide might be vulnerable to pressure to leak documents or spill the beans in other ways,” he says.
Allen writes that the commotion created by the current news story will underscore for many in Church leadership that “the Vatican is long overdue for a serious housecleaning.”
However, Allen concurs with Lawler that “it’s probably a stretch to draw a straight line between all of this and Benedict’s resignation. For the most part, one has to take the pope at his word: He’s stepping aside because he’s old and tired, not because of any particular crisis.”