For an institution devoted to eternal light, the Vatican has shown itself to be a master of smokescreens since Pope Benedict XVI’s shocking resignation announcement.
On Thursday, the Vatican spokesman acknowledged that Benedict hit his head and bled profusely while visiting Mexico in March. Two days earlier, the same man acknowledged that Benedict has had a pacemaker for years and underwent a secret operation to replace its battery three months ago.
And as the Catholic world reeled from shock over the abdication, it soon became clear that Benedict’s post- papacy lodgings have been under construction since at least the fall. That in turn put holes in the Holy See’s early claims that Benedict kept his decision to himself until he revealed it.
Vatican secrecy is legendary and can have tragic consequences — as the world learned through the church sex-abuse scandal in which bishops quietly moved abusive priests without reporting their crimes.
And the secrecy is institutionalized from such weighty matters to the most trivial aspects of Vatican life.
“You have to understand that, actually, every Vatican employee and official takes an oath of secrecy when they assume their job,” said John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries,” an investigation into the workings of the Holy See. “And this isn’t something that is taken lightly. They swear to keep secret any office matters and anything pertaining to the pope.”
One of the most famous cases of Vatican secrecy was the Holy See’s efforts to cover up the fact that Pope John Paul I’s body was discovered by a nun. The eventual revelation helped fuel conspiracy theories over the death of the pope who ruled for only 33 days in 1978.