Smear theater, next act

The conflict between Italy's pro-government media and the Catholic Church continues. Meanwhile, conspiracy theories are doing the rounds, there is talk of Vatican intelligence agents, a dubious defamation letter and a defamation campaign.

According to Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, the scandal surrounding Dino Boffo, editor-in-chief of the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire, has nothing to do with an alleged Vatican intelligence service. "The secret services in the Vatican do not exist," Lombardi said, according to the daily "Corriere della Sera" (Thursday). The Jesuit thus turned "in the strongest possible terms" against speculations of the head of the Turin-based newspaper "Il Giornale," Vittorio Feltri. The latter had stated in a radio report that an anonymous defamatory letter against Boffo for alleged homosexual relations had been circulated by "the Vatican's secret services". Lombardi accused Feltri, according to "Corriere," of trying to stir up chaos with misinformation. Feltri's statement on Rai Radio 1 could at best have referred to security forces that are subordinate to the Vatican gendarmerie. No letter directed against Boffo ever emanated from there either, the Vatican spokesman said. Boffo, for his part, accused "Il Giornale" of a defamation campaign against his person and of deliberate disinformation. The newspaper based itself in the crucial points on the defamatory letter of unknown origin, underlined Boffo in the "Avvenire" (Thursday). For example, he said, the Interior Ministry itself has denied police surveillance of Boffo's private contacts, as alleged by "Il Giornale". In recent days, Boffo had received backing from senior church officials, such as the president of the Italian Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, and Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. Pope Benedict XVI. personally telephoned Bagnasco on Tuesday, according to a statement from the bishops' conference, and expressed his appreciation for the work of the bishops' conference and its president. In the Italian press this was interpreted as personal support in the case Boffo.

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