February 17, 2013
After the initial shock came the speculation. Pope Benedict XVI surprised even his closest advisers on Monday by announcing that he was standing down, but within hours the Vatican was awash, not just with the inevitable talk of who would succeed him, but also with whispers about the “real story” behind the first papal resignation in over 600 years.
Once the curia – or Vatican bureaucracy – started chewing it over, the theories it spat out were quickly flying around what the papal historian John Cornwell has characterised as “a palace of gossipy eunuchs”. And from there it is one short step to finding their way into the Italian press.
Dan Brown couldn’t have made it up. The ecclesiastical earthquake of a pope resigning has been attributed, variously, to Benedict nursing a fatal illness; to a head injury during his trip to Mexico last March that convinced him to abdicate; to being forced out after an acrimonious meeting with a group of senior cardinals two days before he announced his resignation; to his looming disgrace over either dodgy deals done by the Vatican Bank, past cover-ups of paedophile priests, or an “explosive” forthcoming report by a team of cardinals on a tendering scandal; and to a strategy to secure the succession for his favourite.