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Angry Vatican statement denies plot against Italian Catholic editor

February 09, 2010

The Vatican has issued a highly unusual public statement denying any involvement in the scandal that prompted the resignation of a Catholic newspaper editor last year.

Responding to reports that have been circulating freely in the Italian press, the "communiqué from the Secretariat of State" insisted that any suggestion the Vatican was responsible for the forced resignation of Dino Boffo, the former editor of Avvenire, has "no basis whatsoever in fact." The statement professed outrage that some reports had gone "so far as to insinuate the responsibility of the Cardinal Secretary of State" in the affair, and concluded with a pointed statement that Pope Benedict XVI "renews his complete faith in his collaborators."

The fact that the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, would feel obliged to defend himself against rumors-- and to state that he retains the Pope's confidence-- demonstrates that the stories appearing in the Italian media have shaken Vatican officials.

Last year, after Avvenire-- the daily newspaper owned by the Italian bishops' conference-- published a series of columns criticizing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for his pursuit of young women, a rival newspaper, Il Giornale-- owned by Berlusconi's media empire-- retaliated with a report that Boffo, the editor of Avvenire, was an active homosexual. The ensuing firestorm prompted Boffo to resign.

The Boffo controversy was complicated by the fact that while Avvenire had attacked Berlusconi at a time when the Vatican was avoiding direct criticism of the Italian political leader, and emphasizing the importance of working with the Berlusconi government on matters of mutual interest. The contrast in editorial approach between the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, and Avvenire prompted speculation that a rift had developed between the Secretariat of State and the Italian bishops' conference.

Eventually, the editor of Il Giornale issued a public apology to Boffo for having accused him of homosexuality. But the Giornale editor, Vittorio Feltri, re-opened the controversy last week when he said that the original charge against Boffo had been brought to his attention by a ranking Vatican official. Although he refused to identify that official, Feltri said that the man's stature was sufficient to remove any doubt that he was serious. In Rome, other reporters inferred that Feltri was speaking of the editor of L'Osservatore Romano-- who would be seen by any Italian editor as acting with the tacit approval of Cardinal Bertone.

The February 9 statement from the Secretariat of State addressed that suspicion directly:

Specifically, it is false that officers of the Vatican Gendarmerie or the editor of the Osservatore Romano passed on the documents which lay behind the resignation of the editor of Avvenire on 3 September last year; it is false that the editor of the Osservatore Romano gave-- or in any way transmitted or endorsed-- information about these documents; and it is false that he wrote under a pseudonym, or inspired, articles in other publications.

Denying any substance to Filtri's report, the Vatican statement attributed the suspicions of a Machiavellian plot against Boffo to "an unmotivated, unreasonable and malicious action."


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