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  • John Thavis

The Vatican fires back at journalists

In the wake of Italian press reports about Roman Curia score-settling, financial feuds and a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican, the Vatican opened fire on the media today.

A statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State, read to reporters by spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, said much of the pre-conclave coverage was “completely false” and appeared designed to influence the outcome of the papal election.

“If in the past, the so-called powers, that is states, exerted pressures on the election of the pope, today there is an attempt to do this in the public opinion, often based on judgments that do not typically capture the spiritual aspect of the moment the church is living,” the statement said.

“It is deplorable that as we draw nearer to the beginning of the conclave, and the cardinal electors will he held, in conscience and before God, to express their choice, that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, or unverifiable, or completely false news stories, that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”

Italian reporting since Pope Benedict announced his resignation has been marked by a rash of conspiracy theories and speculation about “hidden” motives for the pope’s decision, almost all of it unsourced.

This week, the Rome newspaper La Repubblica ran a series of articles alleging that a secret report by three elderly cardinals, commissioned by the pope last year, included revelations of sexual impropriety among Vatican officials and the existence of a “gay lobby” that wields undue influence inside the Vatican. The newspaper suggested the cardinals’ report was a key reason the pope decided to resign.

Vatican officials I have spoken with dismissed the La Repubblica articles and said the cardinals’ report focused on leaks and alleged mismanagement and corruption, not sexual sins. But since the report is confidential, not even Vatican officials can categorically rule out that such matters were mentioned.

Father Lombardi voiced his own displeasure with pre-conclave coverage in an editorial earlier in the day, lamenting that some reporters were trying “to sow confusion and to discredit the church and its governance, making recourse to old tools, such as gossip, misinformation and sometimes slander.”

“In the majority of cases, those who present themselves as judges, making heavy moral judgments, do not, in truth, have any authority to do so. Those who consider money, sex and power before all else and are used to reading diverse realities from these perspectives, are unable to see anything else, even in the church, because they are unable to gaze toward the heights or descend to the depths in order to grasp the spiritual dimensions and reasons of existence. This results in a description of the church and of many of its members that is profoundly unjust,” the spokesman said.

Pope Benedict himself spoke recently about the divisions that have “disfigured” the church, words that many felt were aimed at the Roman Curia. Yesterday, in his last Lenten meditation delivered to the pope and top Curia officials, Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi said they should all reflect on the “divisions, dissent, careerism and jealousies” that mark human experience.

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