VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican accused Italian media on Tuesday of waging an “insulting” smear campaign against it and Pope Benedict by running embarrassing stories about palace intrigue and Byzantine plotting inside its walls.
With a rare statement issued by its Secretariat of State, the Vatican broke its silence after two weeks of stories about events that led up to the resignation last September of Dino Boffo, influential editor of the Catholic newspaper Avvenire.
The reports said top Vatican officials had sent an Italian newspaper owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s family a false document alleging Boffo had been accused of harassment by a woman with whose husband he was having a homosexual affair.
Since January 23, Vatican officials have seen stories with headlines such as “The Poison of Cardinals,” “Vatican Intrigue” and “Hunger for Power in the Vatican.”
The articles, printed in mainstream newspapers, painted a picture of Vatican halls bristling with intrigue and plotting worthy of Medieval papacies.
“These articles attempting to reconstruct events are totally unfounded,” the Vatican statement said. “This is part of a smear campaign against the Holy See, which has implicated the pope himself.”
Il Giornale, owned by Berlusconi’s brother, ran repeated front-page stories in August attacking Boffo as a false moralist because he had written editorials criticising Berlusconi over his extra-marital affairs.
Boffo denied the charges but resigned in early September, saying it was for the good of the Church. Three months later, in December, Il Giornale said its story was wrong and had been based on a false court document it had received.
Il Giornale did not say where it had got the false document.
In recent weeks, Italian papers have been full of stories that Vatican officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Gian Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican newspaper L‘Osservatore Romano, were behind the fake documents.
The reports said Bertone and Vian had wanted to get rid of Boffo, one of the most influential Catholic opinion makers and editor of Avvenire for 15 years, because he was allied to another cardinal they considered a rival.
The Vatican statement said the pope deplored the media reports as “unjust and insulting” and that he had total trust in his aides.
The fact that the Vatican waited for more than two weeks before responding to the media reports indicated that an internal investigation was held, a Vatican source said.
Editing by Ralph Boulton