VATICAN CITY: 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, 85, 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.