Conspiracy theories abound after pope rumours
Conspiracy theories worthy of a Dan Brown novel sprouted in the Italian media yesterday, with accusations that Pope Francis's enemies were looking to undermine him after a newspaper reported he had a brain tumour.
The Vatican angrily denied Wednesday's story, calling it irresponsible and inexcusable, but rather than fading out of sight the saga has inflated into a cloak-and-dagger whodunnit.
'Who wants the pope dead?' the main headline in 'Il Giornale' newspaper said.
Even 'La Repubblica' and 'La Stampa', both respected daily papers, wrote of a 'shadow of a plot' on their front pages.
Most papers concluded that the story was false. But rather than dismissing it as a journalistic error, commentators and churchmen in the land that gave the world Machiavelli, the master of political cunning, looked for hidden intrigue.
The common denominator was that the pope's foes within the Vatican and the Catholic Church want to weaken his authority as a pivotal meeting of world bishops on family issues nears its end on Sunday.
'La Repubblica' quoted Argentine Bishop, Victor Manuel Fernandez, as fearing a well-planned "apocalyptic strategy" against Francis by conservatives who want to destabilise the Church and block his attempts to change it.
Leading political columnist Massimo Franco wrote in 'Corriere della Sera' that the story was probably "hatched in the most murky Vatican underground and was aimed at de-legitimising the pontiff".
'La Stampa' called the saga part of a "calumny to block change".
It all stemmed from a report in 'Quotidiano Nazionale' that a Japanese doctor had secretly visited the Vatican in January to examine the pope and concluded that he had a benign tumour that could be treated without undergoing surgery.
The Vatican issued three detailed denials and the doctor, Takanori Fukushima, released a statement through his office in North Carolina that said: "I have never medically examined the pope. These stories are completely false."