Pope Benedict XVI: Vatileaks? Heart trouble? Rumours swirl around the Pope

Holy See says pontiff had pacemaker fitted last month but denies that it forced his resignation

Vatican City

Speculation about Pope Benedict XVI’s declining health and the bitter power struggles in the Vatican gripped Rome following the shock news of the pontiff’s resignation.

It emerged that the 85-year-old Benedict – who abdicated on health grounds – visited a Rome hospital just three months ago to have a new pacemaker fitted. Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, confirmed the report in IlSole24ore newspaper. He said: “It is correct that [the pacemaker] was substituted but it is not relevant to the Holy Father’s decision to stand down.”

Fr Lombardi told journalists “no specific illnesses” were behind Pope Benedict’s decision, in an attempt to squash speculation that he was suffering from a terminal illness.

Italy’s leading daily broadsheet, Corriere della Sera, suggested instead that the abdication was motivated by the “Vatileaks” scandal, which saw confidential papers stolen by Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, and disclosed to the press last year. Gabriele, who was jailed and then pardoned by the Pope in December, claimed he was trying to expose corruption at the Holy See and unmask individuals who were attempting to manipulate the pontiff.

Benedict commissioned three of his most loyal cardinals to write a report into the affair, which some are now claiming was the tipping point in his decision to step aside. Experts have suggested that the report – which was immediately shelved by the Pope – may have revealed a major conspiracy to discredit his papacy and also smear his unpopular de facto Prime Minister, Tarcisio Bertone.

Benedict’s tenure was a turbulent one, even by Vatican standards. Relatively liberal comments by the new Minister for the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, which were reported just last week, underlined the battle between ultra-conservative figures such as Benedict and more progressive elements in the Church.

Archbishop Paglia appeared to back calls for civil partnerships for gays and called for an end to discrimination at the most recent International Meeting on the Family in Milan.

Fr Lombardi claimed the archbishop’s comments were entirely consistent with the Church’s position on the issue, despite Benedict’s notoriously conservative declarations on the subject.

Another veteran of the Holy See, John Thavis, author of the forthcoming book Vatican Diaries, told The Independent he thought Benedict was happy to go “because he has achieved every major thing he’s set out to do”.

“He is feeling frailer,” he added. “You could see it at Christmas, he was obviously weaker. And he thinks he had achieved his main objectives: the series of three books on the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the launch of the New Evangelisation campaign.”

Mr Thavis said however, that the resignation might have lasting repercussions. “This Pope has resigned at 85. The next one might resign at 75. Maybe the Church will feel compelled to elect younger popes from now on.”

Benedict will continue his ordinary duties until 28 February. At 8pm that day he will cease to be Pope. He will remove his pontifical ring, which will be destroyed. The Catholic world will have to wait for a new pontiff to be elected by papal conclave of cardinals, which is expected to meet within about two weeks of his resignation.

Fr Lombardi said the exact date of the conclave was still being decided, because the rarity of a papal resignation meant Vatican experts were still interpreting canonical law in order to decide when to hold it.

Today, Benedict will celebrate Mass in St Peter’s Square to mark Ash Wednesday. He will also keep appointments in coming days with the heads of state of Romania and Guatemala, and attend a meeting with bishops.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works