Vatican rejects letter revealing plot to kill Pope within a year
Sensational claims of a plot to assassinate Pope Benedict XVI have whipped Italy into a frenzy and focused the world's attention on the poisonous atmosphere seeping through the corridors of the Holy See.
The Italian daily 'Il Fatto Quotidiano' published an unsigned letter, written in German, which speaks of a "mordkomplott" (death plot ) against Pope Benedict and quotes the Archbishop of Palermo, Paolo Romeo, as predicting that the Pontiff would die within 12 months.
The anonymous missive, dated December 30 and marked "strictly confidential for the Holy Father" claims to report comments made by Cardinal Romeo during a trip to Beijing last year.
It was handed over to the Pope's number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, last month, by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia. The newspaper does not explain how Cardinal Castrillon came to possess the letter.
But Marco Lillo, the reporter who broke the story, speculated that German was used to convey the information directly to the Pope, who is German, while throwing prying eyes off the scent.
Yesterday Cardinal Romeo denied having made such comments. "It is so outside of reality that it should not be given any consideration," he said.
The Vatican's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the report was "so incredible that we cannot comment on it".
"It seems to me something that is so far from reality that I don't even want to address it," Father Lombardi said. "It seems an incredible story and I don't want to comment."
He did not deny the existence of the document, but added that it was "devoid of reality".
It is a well-known fact that Benedict is unpopular among many Church figures. But experts said yesterday the letter was more likely an indication of a plot to cause political mischief than murder.
Robert Mickens, the Rome correspondent of Catholic newspaper 'The Tablet', who has covered the Vatican for more than two decades, was sceptical.
"I rather suspect it is nonsense, written to create even more rancour," he said. "More than anything it's an indication of the ill-feeling there and of the plotting and power struggles."
He noted the anonymous letter may also have been designed to harm the prospects of Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, one of the leading candidates to succeed the 85-year-old Pontiff.
In naming him as the likely successor should the Pope die this year, the writer is likely to have stoked up resentment and enmity against Cardinal Scola.
Veteran Vatican watcher Valerio Gigante of the the Adista religious news website, said: "It's probably been done to hurt the Pope and his secretary of state (Cardinal Bertone). And maybe to hurt Cardinal Scola, too."
Experts said the release of the document could be part of a power struggle within the Vatican administration to try and force Cardinal Bertone to leave.
Cardinal Romeo said Benedict viewed Cardinal Scola as his ideal successor because they had similar personalities and theological outlooks.
Cardinal Scola was previously the Patriarch of Venice, but was promoted to the archbishopric of Milan by Benedict in June last year. (© Independent News Service)