VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI is clearing the decks of his pontificate, tweaking the rules of the conclave, finessing the religious rites used to launch the next papacy and making some eyebrow-raising final appointments before he retires next week.
The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said in editions published late Friday that Benedict had signed a decree earlier in the week making some changes to the papal installation Mass, separating out the actual rite of installation from the liturgy itself.
He is also studying the text of a separate document governing the rules of the conclave, though it's not known if it will address the thorny issue of whether the election can begin earlier than March 15, by some interpretations the earliest the vote can start under the current rules.
And on Friday, the Vatican announced Benedict had transferred a top official in the secretariat of state, Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, to Colombia — an appointment that came amid swirling media speculation about the contents of a confidential report into the Vatican's leaks scandal.
Italian newspapers have been rife for days with unsourced reports about the contents of the secret dossier that three cardinals prepared for Benedict after investigating the origins of the leaks. The scandal erupted last year after papers taken from the pope's desk were published in a blockbuster book. The pope's butler was convicted in October of aggravated theft, and later pardoned.
The Vatican has refused to comment on the reports, which have claimed the contents of the dossier, delivered to Benedict in December, were a factor in his decision to resign. Benedict himself has said he simply no longer has the "strength of mind and body" to carry on.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, has indicated that Benedict would meet with the three cardinals before stepping down Feb. 28, in one of his final private audiences.
Given the rivalries, turf battles and allegations of corruption exposed by the leaks themselves, there is some speculation that cardinals entering the conclave might want to know the contents of the dossier before choosing a new pope.
Balestrero was head of the Holy See's delegation to the Council of Europe's Moneyval committee, which evaluated the Vatican's anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing measures. He has had a hand in the efforts by the Vatican bank to be more transparent and is close to Benedict's No. 2, the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
The Vatican submitted itself to Moneyval's evaluation in a bid to improve its reputation in the financial world.
The Vatican passed the test on the first try in August, and Moneyval said it had made great progress in a short amount of time. But the Holy See received poor or failing grades for its financial watchdog agency and its bank, long the source of some of the Vatican's more storied scandals.
Some of the documents leaked in the midst of the "Vatileaks" scandal concerned differences of opinion about the level of financial transparency the Holy See should provide about the bank, the Institute for Religious Works. However, Balestrero himself wasn't named in any significant way in the leaks.
The Vatican is now working to comply with Moneyval's recommendations before the next round of evaluation. Lombardi said the lengthy Moneyval process would simply be handled by someone else now that Balestrero is leaving.
Lombardi said Balestrero's transfer had been months in the works, was a clear promotion and had nothing to do with what the Vatican considers baseless reporting.
Lombardi noted that the nunciature in Bogota is one of the most important in Latin America, with the headquarters for the Latin American bishops' conference as well as the regional organization for religious orders, and is usually headed by someone who has had experience as a nuncio in at least two other postings.
"The procedure for this nomination was started some time ago, as evidenced by the fact that the agreement (with Colombia) has already been reached," Lombardi told The Associated Press. "It was started well before the pope's resignation, so it's completely unfounded to link it to the news articles in recent days."
Asked if the transfer had anything to do with the broader Vatileaks investigation, Lombardi said he was declining comment in line with the Vatican's decision not to confirm or deny any specifics of the investigation.
Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, the Opus Dei canon lawyer who headed the cardinal's commission, has spoken in vague terms about the report and the well-known divisions within the Vatican Curia that were exposed by the leaks.
"Certainly, it has been said that this was a hypothesis behind the pope's resignation, but I think we need to respect his conscience," Herranz told Radio24 last week. "Certainly, there are divisions and there have always been divisions, as well as clashes along ideological lines. These aren't new, but yes, they have a weight."
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