VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican denied on Friday that Pope Benedict’s decision to send a senior official to a new post in Latin America was linked to a secret report about leaked papal papers.
Since Benedict announced his resignation on February 11, Italian newspapers have been full of rumors about conspiracies, secret reports and lobbies in the Vatican that they say pushed the pope to abdicate.
Some reports hinted there were sinister motives behind the pope’s decision to promote Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, an Italian who holds a post roughly equivalent to deputy foreign minister, to be the Vatican’s new ambassador to Colombia.
The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the suggestion that the pope had made the appointment to get Balestrero out of the Vatican was “absurd, totally without foundation”.
Lombardi said the appointment had been decided weeks ago and that the Vatican had waited for the Colombian government’s official agreement before announcing it.
The pope has announced that he will step down on February 28, becoming the first pontiff to abdicate in some six centuries.
The 85-year-old Benedict said his failing health no longer enabled him to run the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church as he would like.
Italy’s Repubblica newspaper has run a series of unsourced stories about the alleged contents of a secret report prepared for the pope by a commission of three cardinals who investigated the so-called Vatileaks scandal last year.
In that scandal, Paolo Gabriele, the pope’s butler, was convicted of stealing personal papal documents and leaking them to the media.
The documents alleged corruption in the Vatican and infighting over the running of its bank, which has been at the heart of a series of scandals in past decades.
The Italian media stories suggested Balestrero was mentioned in the cardinals’ report, which was handed to the pope and is still secret.
Balestrero was head of the Vatican’s delegation to Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s committee that evaluates how countries are applying international standards on financial transparency.
The Vatican, a sovereign city-state surrounded by Rome, subjected itself to Moneyval’s investigations in an attempt to achieve full financial transparency and put its scandal-tinged financial past behind it.
The Moneyval report, issued last July, gave the Vatican an overall passing grade but said it had to made improvements in several areas, including the management at its bank, the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR).
The Vatican has said it is willing to adhere to all of Moneyval’s recommendations.
Bogota is one of the most prestigious posts in Latin America for a Vatican diplomat because it is the headquarters of CELAM, the umbrella group for all of the continent’s bishops conferences.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Robin Pomeroy