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New Allegations Arise Against Vatican Ahead of Papal Elections

February 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
As the Catholic Church prepares to elect a new pope, new allegations have emerged of sexual and financial impropriety -- including corruption and the attempted blackmail of gay Vatican clergy -- in the Italian media. Margaret Warner talks with the Washington Post's Jason Horowitz.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There were other reports of scandal rocking the Vatican over the weekend, as Pope Benedict prepares to leave office later in the week.

Margaret Warner has more on the latest from Rome.

MARGARET WARNER: Unsourced stories in the Italian media in recent days have alleged sexual and financial impropriety, including corruption, favoritism and the attempted blackmail of gay Vatican clergy at the highest levels of the church.

In response, the Vatican released a statement Saturday attacking the press accounts as an attempt to influence the election of the new pope, stating: “It is deplorable that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”

Today, Pope Benedict met with three cardinals he had named to run a secret investigation into a cache of leaked Vatican documents last year. The new media allegations are said to be based on their findings. It was announced today that their findings will remain sealed, shown only to the new pontiff, but not to the cardinals set to gather to select him.

Jason Horowitz of The Washington Post is covering these latest developments and joins us from the Vatican.

Jason, welcome.

This has been several days of real turmoil at and involving the Vatican. What sort of shadow is it casting over the preparations to gather to select a new pope?

JASON HOROWITZ, The Washington Post: I think I would say it’s casting a pretty long shadow.

It’s — there’s really a feeling of chaos and confusion here. Already, the resignation of the pope kind of set things in tilt, that people weren’t used to this. It’s the first time in about 600 years. But the fact that it’s been followed by revelation or at least, you know, apparent revelation of scandal after scandal hasn’t helped matters for the Vatican at all.

MARGARET WARNER: And what drove the Vatican to issue this very public denunciation of these media reports? I mean, in other words, how damaging do they think those reports are potentially to the Vatican?

JASON HOROWITZ: That’s a very good question.

And I guess that the Vatican thought that they were very damaging. But I wonder a little bit if they were thinking a little too much with their Italian minds, and not enough with their kind of global church minds, because a lot of people, especially American journalists, you know, we were being very cautious about those allegations in the Italian press because they were extremely thinly sourced.

The idea that this reporter had seen this document, when really it seemed to be only these three cardinals and the pope, seem almost farfetched. And the accusations were so heavy that you notice that a lot of the American and really international press kind of laid off. It was only when the Vatican released that very strong statement calling the reports unverifiable that it kind of forced international journalists to kind of pay attention.

And so I wonder if it backfired on them a little bit.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, what is the bigger picture here? In other words, you have got leaks and counterleaks and accusations and counteraccusations. Is this just about the struggle for power over getting — you know, who is going to be the new pope, or is there some larger thread here?

I mean, are there different camps that represent different perspectives on how the church should be managed going forward, or indeed where the church should go moving forward?

JASON HOROWITZ: So, I think that the answer to both is yes.

I mean, you do have camps within the church that — you know, for whom different things are important. You have certain prelates who care a lot about reaching out to the Southern Hemisphere. You have others who want to clean up the Curia, which is the — basically the bureaucracy that runs the church.

The bigger picture, I think, is that you’re seeing a church that, especially here in the Vatican, where there’s really large management problems. And the power plays that we’re seeing in there — and that are probably spilling out into the press is what we’re seeing a little bit — are reflective of a place where there’s not a lot of stability.

And the fact that the pope resigned shocked everyone. And kind of all that instability is coming out to the fore right now. And it’s coming out to the fore. It’s spilling out in press reports. Then, of course, you look north and you look to Britain, and you have Cardinal O’Brien, who is now, you know, facing really serious accusations and really it seems like almost not welcomed to the conclave.

It marks a very large change and shift for the Vatican that, if you look back even just eight years ago, they were willing to embrace these cardinals that were, you know, ensnared in these scandals. And now they’re not so willing to do that.

MARGARET WARNER: And does this have any — or will it have any bearing on the American Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been accused of shielding pedophile priests back in the ’80s, has been stripped of his duties? Lay groups are calling on him not to go to the conclave, but he says he’s going to.

JASON HOROWITZ: Right.

Well, I think that the interesting thing there is that what we’re seeing with O’Brien is the reaction from the Vatican. And, again, if you remember back to Cardinal Law who was embattled, and to say the least with the sex scandals and the priestly abuse. And yet the Vatican kind of circled the wagons around him.

And this time, it seems like these cardinals are finding themselves under the wheels of that wagon. They don’t seem very eager to have O’Brien here. And I wonder if they’re so eager to have Mahony here either. I mean, they’re not going to say, don’t come. It’s his right as a cardinal to come. But it brings a distraction.

MARGARET WARNER: And, briefly, before we go, Thursday is the pope’s last day. Friday, this process in some fashion begins. What does happen next?

JASON HOROWITZ: Well, what happens next is that the cardinals start meeting with one another starting on Mar 1st. In fact, today, the pope kind of made an amendment to the constitution, if you will, of the Vatican saying that the cardinals will establish and meet and establish the date of the conclave.

So, on Mar. 1st, they will start meeting, decide when the conclave is. And really what you’re going to have, even though they’re not supposed to, is a bunch of cardinals talking to one another, figuring out what issues are important, who are the likely candidates, who they think is the guy to bring them forward in this century. And so we’re going to have — basically, what you’re going to see is a lot of coffee and cappuccino being drunk by these cardinals and a lot of talking about the future.

MARGARET WARNER: And you will be there to cover it.

Jason Horowitz, Washington Post, thank you.

JASON HOROWITZ: Thank you.