Conspiracy theories worthy of a Dan Brown novel sprouted in the Italian media on Thursday, with accusations that Pope Francis’s enemies were looking to undermine him after a newspaper reported he had a brain tumor.
The Vatican angrily denied Wednesday’s story, calling it irresponsible and inexcusable, but rather than fading out of sight, the saga has inflated into a cloak-and-dagger whodunnit.
“Who wants the pope dead,” the main headline in Il Giornale newspaper said. La Repubblica and La Stampa, both respected dailies, wrote of a “shadow of a plot” on their front pages.
Most papers concluded that the story was false. But rather than dismissing it as a journalistic error, commentators and churchmen in the land that gave the world Machiavelli, the master of political cunning, looked for hidden intrigue.The common denominator was that the pope’s foes within the Vatican and the Catholic Church want to weaken his authority as a pivotal meeting of world bishops on family issues nears its end on Sunday.
La Repubblica quoted Argentine Bishop Victor Manuel Fernandez as fearing a well-planned “apocalyptic strategy” against Francis by conservatives who want to destabilize the Church and block his attempts to change it.
Leading political columnist Massimo Franco wrote in Corriere della Sera daily that the story was probably “hatched in the most murky Vatican underground and was aimed at de-legitimizing the pontiff.”
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