The Caffe San Pietro is a bit more expensive than other coffee-shops a few steps further from St. Peter’s Square, but it is convenient. It’s just a one-minute walk from the press office.
Besides, it was cold and windy outside.
We took seats at a table just up the steps to the inner room.
“Well,” I said. “Thanks for talking with me. I want to ask you about the 300-page dossier of the three cardinals. The results of the investigation by Cardinals Julian Herranz, Josef Tomko e Salvatore de Giorgi.
“All the recent articles about what the dossier contains, including the La Repubblica article on Thursday, February 21, by Concita De Gregorio, which was then picked up so dramatically by the world press, trace back to your article in Panorama, excerpts of which were published on the internet two days earlier, on February 19, though the actual date of the issue in which the article appeared is February 27. And now the Vatican has issued a communique denouncing the media for running articles not based on fact, aimed at influencing the Conclave. So I’m trying to pause and go back a bit here, to see how all this developed.”
I pulled the magazine out of my briefcase and put it on the table.
“I just want to know more about how you found out about the contents of the dossier.”
“No problem,” Ignazio said. “But I have another appointment at 1:30, so we only have about half an hour.”
The Caffe San Pietro, a few steps from the Vatican press office. I met there on Sunday, after the Pope’s last angelus, with Ignazio Ingrao, journalist for the Italian weekly Panorama, a widely read secular newseekly in Italy
A waiter came up.
“Due cappuccini,” Ignazio said.
“E un cornetto semplice,” I added. (A “cornetto” is a small, sweet brioche with a thick center and two pointed ends, one on each side, giving it the shape of a “horn,” which is what the word “cornetto” means.)
(A pile of fresh “cornetti” in an Italian cafe)
“Well,” I said. “Did you actually see the report?”
“You never set eyes on it?”
“Then how could you report on its contents? Did you talk with one of the three cardinals?”
“No, it wasn’t like that,” Ignazio said.
“My work was a careful work of reconstruction. I had been interested in the dossier for a long time, of course, and when the Pope resigned on February 11, my interest only increased. I very systematically sought out people in the Curia I thought might have been interviewed, and I spoke to them, one by one.”
“How many?” I asked.
(Ignazio Ingrao, the Italian journalist who broke the story about the contents of the secret 300-page cardinals’ dossier that was given to the Pope on December 17, and was said to have shocked him so much that it contributed to his decision to resign, announced on February 11)
“About 15,” he said. “I asked them what the interview sessions were like, what the line of questioning was, and even, what their answers were. It was like working on a jig-saw puzzle.
“Bit by bit, I began to have the outlines of a picture. I could see what the cardinals were looking for. They wanted to know something about the cities where the monsignors were born, in what seminaries they had studied, who else in the Curia they knew from their cities and from their seminaries, what religious order they were in — Salesian, Franciscan, Dominican, Jesuit — whether they had studied at the Vatican’s diplomatic academy…”
“Ok,” I said. “That’s clear enough. You say that in your article. You write: ‘The report gives a photograph of the geographic currents, linked to the city or the region one comes from’… But you also write: ‘But perhaps the part of the report that most shocked the Pope was the one that brought to light the existence of a network of friendships and of blackmailings against a backround of homosexuality, which is very present in some sectors of the Curia.’ (‘Ma forse la parte del rapporto che piu ha scioccato il Papa e quella che ha portato alla luce l’esistenza di una vera e propria rete di amicizie e di ricatti a sfondo omosessuale che e molto presente in alcuni settori della curia.’)
(Below, the actual article by Ignazio Ingrao from the February 27 Panorama, which sparked a series of other reports in the world’s media, and then led the Vatican Secretariat of State to issue a statement warning against media speculation and distortion. The title sayd: “The Secret Dossier Will Condition the Conclave.” The parts of the article I cite below are on the second page, especially the lines at the bottom of the first and the top of the middle column)
(First page of the article)
(Second page of the article)
“And you write: ‘Some actually go so far as to call it the “gay lobby” of the Vatican.’
“But then,” I said, “you use the word sarebbe, in the subjunctive.
“You say, ‘this lobby sarebbe’ (is said to be, or is thought to be, or is supposed to be, or should be) ‘by far the most extensive and influential of all those present in the Vatican dicasteries.’ (“Qualcuno si spinge addirittura a definirla la ‘lobby gay’ del Vaticano, che sarebbe di gran lunga la piu ramificata e influente di tutte quelle presenti nei dicasteri vaticani.”)
“You even say that the report gives the first and last names of the members of this lobby.
“What evidence do you really have that the report actually say this?”
Ignazio didn’t miss a beat. He was cool and collected.
“The theme of the gay lobby emerged because a few of the people who were questioned by the cardinals told me that the questions that they were asked were about this aspect,” he said. “So, the commission explored this theme in depth. Especially in regard to the influence this could have in the exercise of authority in the Curia.”
“So you do not think you are simply speculating here?”
“It was clear,” Ignazio said. “The cardinals were specifically interested in this point. I heard this from several sources. I did not consider anything valid if I heard it from one source only. I required at least two or three sources telling me the same thing. If I heard it from two or more sources, if my sources confirmed one another, I knew I was hearing something with a basis in fact.”
“But then,” I said, “you still did not really know if this was really a factor in the Pope’s decision to resign. Or did you?”
“I did,” Ignazio said.
“Because of the entire context, because of the dates, because tof the way everything unfolded. The Pope is the head of the Curia, and depends on the Curia, but last year it happened that papers were stolen from his very desk. His entire work was undermined. And so he asked the commission of three cardinals to investigate into the Curia, and they did so, for many months. Then, when they submitted their results, only seven weeks passed by before the Pope resigned. Of course, we cannot say that the report alone prompted the resignation. The Pope has an awareness of the situation of the Church throughout the world, going far beyond the Curia. But I think we have to say that the report played a role in the resignation decision.”
“But you don’t actually know that the Pope was shocked by the report…”
“Well, I wrote ‘forse’ (‘perhaps’),” Ignazio said. “Perhaps the part of the report that most shocked the Pope was the one that brought to light the existence of a network of friendships and of blackmailings against a background of homosexuality, which is very present in some sectors of the Curia…”
“Ok, I see,” I said. “By saying ‘forse’ you took your distance from that assertion…” I paused. “And in the last part of the sentence, where you say homosexuality is ‘very present’ in ‘some sectors’ of the Curia?”
“That emerged from conversations with witnesses. It is what they told the commission of cardinals.”
Our time was nearly up. We sipped our coffee and I ate my cornetto.
“Tell me a little about yourself,” I said. “Panorama is a secular magazine, generally anti-clerical. Are you a Catholic?”
“I’m a Catholic, born in Rome, raised in Rome,” he said. “I’m married and I have two children, eight years old and six years old. I believe in the importance of the spiritual dimension, of the sacred. And I love the Church. But I also love the truth. In everything I write, that is my goal, my only goal: the truth.”
“What about the decision to promote Balestrero to be nuncio in Colombia?”
“Well, they say it wasn’t a sudden decision, that it took some weeks, that the government of Colombia had to be informed and to accept the nomination. But there is no doubt that the appointment was in some ways not in keeping with ordinary Church procedures. Normally, a Vatican monsignor has a certain development in his career, according to a rather precise time-table: first one or two minor assignments abroad, five year in Africa, five years in Latin America, then five years in Rome, sometimes more, and then a major assignment, like becoming a nuncio. But he was moved at least two years early. This is, in any case, a bit unusual.”
“One thing I really like about you article,” I said, “was the last sentence. You write: ‘But for the majority of the electors, it is already clear that from the Sistine Chapel must exit a Pope who cannot be blackmailed so that he can proceed to that action of purification that Ratzinger has entrusted to his successor.’ (‘Ma per la maggior parte degli elettori è già chiaro che dalla Cappella Sistina dovrà uscire un Papa non ricattabile per poter procedere a quell’azione di pulizia che Ratzinger ha affidato al successore.’)
“Thanks,” Ignazio said. “We are in agreement. The Pope should not have his hands tied.”
“Absolutely. Totally agree,” I said. “Great talking to you. I appreciate it.”
“Any time,” he said.
Later, I ran into an Italian jounalist friend, and mentioned that I had spoken to Ingrao and that he had stood by his story.
“His story was ultimately based on the work of an Italian priest, don Ariel S. Levi di Gualdo, who came out with an explosive book last year on this subject. That’s the real source of this story. They say that all the cardinals received copies of his book, even Cardinal Herranz, the head of the commission of three cardinals which prepared the secret dossier given to the Pope on December 17.”
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“Do you have his phone number?” I said.
(to be continued…)