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Pope Benedict XVI has claimed that he's resigning the papacy next week because of old age. But according to the major Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the real reason he resigned is because he did not want to deal the repercussions of a secret 300-page Vatican dossier that allegedly found, among other things, an underground network of high-ranking gay clergy, complete with sex parties and shady dealings with the already scandal-ridden Vatican bank. Here's what we know:

The report sounds menacing. According to La Repubblica, the dossier comes in two volumes, "two folders hard-bound in red" with the header "pontifical secret."

Pope Benedict asked for the investigation. "The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign — the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called 'Vatileaks' affair," according to the The Guardian's translation of the report.

The Vatican has a Velvet Mafia — and the Velvet Mafia is being blackmailed. The dossier alleges that a gay lobby exists within the Church, and has some sort of control on the careers of those in the Vatican. The dossier also alleges that this group isn't as covert as it thinks — and got blackmailed by people on the outside. "The cardinals were said to have uncovered an underground gay network, whose members organise sexual meetings in several venues in Rome and Vatican City, leaving them prone to blackmail," reads The Sydney Morning Herald's translation of the report, and The Guardian adds: "They included a villa outside the Italian capital, a sauna in a Rome suburb, a beauty parlour in the centre, and a former university residence that was in use by a provincial Italian archbishop." Some important context on this still powerful group:

  • This isn't the first time there's been talk of a gay faction inside the highest ranks of the Church. Indeed, it isn't even the first time that La Repubblica has written about it. Back in 2010, Ghinedu Ehiem, a Nigerian clergyman who was part of one of the Vatican's prestigious choirs, was dismissed after police wiretaps found him negotiating for male prostitutes. La Repubblica had those wiretaps.
  • And "in 2007 a senior official was suspended from the congregation, or department, for the priesthood, after he was filmed in a 'sting' organised by an Italian television programme while apparently making sexual overtures to a younger man," according to The Guardian — evidence the paper says connects to a gay network within the Holy See.

La Repubblica's sourcing seems to have been corroborated. So how much of this new scandal should you believe? Well, La Repubblica is not the only publication with an outline of this scandalous dossier. Panorama, an Italian weekly, has a similar report out late this week and according to the AFP, both publications have sources (perhaps the same source) who said the same thing: that the investigation shows transgressions that "revolve around the sixth and seventh commandments" — "Thou shall not commit adultery" and "Thou shall not steal." It's assumed in multiple reports that homosexual sex acts fall under the "adultery" umbrella. 

The Vatican's bank sounds fishy. La Repubblica says that the seventh commandment ("Though shall not steal") has to do with the Institute of Religious Works, the Vatican's Bank. "The three cardinals continued to work beyond 17 December last year. They came up with the latest events concerning the IOR — here you go to the seventh commandment," reads the report, according to a rough Google Translation. On February 15, Pope Benedict appointed Ernst von Freyberg, a German lawyer, to head the scandalous bank.

The Vatican's response isn't exactly comforting. They Church isn't flat-out denying the inflammatory allegations from La Repubblica, and they've pulled the classic act of neither confirming nor denying. Vatican spokesman Father Ferederico Lombardi said in a statement

Neither the cardinals' commission nor I will make comments to confirm or deny the things that are said about this matter. Let each one assume his or her own responsibilities. We shall not be following up on the observations that are made about this.

Pope Benedict's successor will have a rough first day. If this damning dossier was really a big enough deal to have forced the first papal resignation in 600 years, who gets to deal with it? That undertaking will go to Benedict's successor. According to La Repubblica, the dossier will stay in a secret papal safe and delivered to Benedict's successor whenever he is elected — and that isn't all, La Repubblica said this gay blackmail thing is just the first in a series of articles by the paper. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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