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
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before