Pope Benedict's final stretch at the Vatican isn't exactly a quiet one. A spokesman lashed out today against "unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories" that he says have been circulating in recent days. The Rev. Federico Lombardi didn't get into specifics, but he is no doubt referring to the sensational allegations in one of Italy's biggest newspapers that a network of gay priests inside the Vatican was being blackmailed by outsiders, reports the Independent.
Lombardi says enemies of the church are not only trying to discredit the Vatican as riven by infighting and controversy but to influence the selection of the next pope. He didn't spell out just how that might happen, but the AP speculates: "Some Vatican watchers have speculated that because the Vatican bureaucracy is heavily Italian, cardinals might be persuaded to elect a non-Italian, non-Vatican-based cardinal as pope to try to impose some reform on the Curia." Benedict gives his final Sunday blessing in St. Peter's Square tomorrow.