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Vatican blasts 'false' conclave reports

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican lashed out on Saturday at the media for what it said has been a run of defamatory and false reports before the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor, saying they were an attempt to influence the election.

Italian newspapers have been rife with unsourced reports in recent days about the contents of a secret dossier prepared for the pope by three cardinals who investigated the origins of the 2012 scandal caused by leaked Vatican documents.

The media reports suggested the revelations in the dossier, given to Benedict in December, were a factor in his decision to resign. The pope has said merely that he does not have the “strength of mind and body” to carry on and would resign Feb. 28.

The secretariat of state said on Saturday that the Roman Catholic Church has for centuries insisted on the independence of its cardinals to freely elect their pope — a reference to episodes in the past when European royals vetoed papal contenders.

“It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the conclave ... that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions,” the statement said.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi was asked how specifically the media were trying to influence the outcome; Lombardi said only that the reports have tended to paint the Curia in a negative light “beyond the considerations and serene evaluations” of problems that cardinals might discuss before the conclave.

Some Vatican watchers have speculated that because the Vatican bureaucracy is heavily Italian, cardinals might be persuaded to elect a non-Italian, non-Vatican-based cardinal as pope to try to impose some reform on the Curia.

While Lombardi has said the reports “do not correspond to reality,” the pope and some of his closest collaborators have recently denounced the dysfunction in the Apostolic Palace.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, for example, criticized the “divisions, dissent, careerism, jealousies” that afflict the Vatican bureaucracy. He made the comments on Friday, the penultimate day of the Vatican's weeklong spiritual exercises that were attended by the pope and officials.

Ravasi, a papal contender, was chosen by Benedict to deliver daily meditations, and the pope praised him for his “brilliant” work.

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