This is not, in fact, true.
Tornielli, who writes for La Stampa and its church Web site, Vatican Insider, is considered the dean of the “Vaticanisti,” the curious class of reporters, historians and gadflies who interpret for laypeople the shadows on the Vatican walls. As the Catholic Church has begun the process to elect its next pope, these often publicly devout, if privately irreverent, men and women act as sound-bite-ready Sherpas for the about 5,000 accredited journalists who have flooded into Rome to cover the selection story.
At their best, the truly connected Vaticanisti deliver insightful, deeply reported analysis of what transpires at the height of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy. At their worst, they are emblematic of conspiracy-obsessed Italian journalism, using thin and sometimes imagined sourcing as a means to agenda-boosting ends, the divining of which have themselves become a pontifical parlor game.
Either way, the most influential Vaticanisti certainly seem to have an impact on the papal-picking process.
“They are not observers. They are players. And this is their big chance,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, author of “Inside the Vatican” and a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
At times, the Vatican views the Vaticanisti as a threat on par with, say, Napoleon. In the days leading up to Benedict XVI’s resignation as pope, the Vatican press corps reported on the contents of a secret investigation conducted by three cardinals into a papal letter-leaking scandal. (That Italian judicial reporters, and not the Vaticanisti, broke the so-called VatiLeaks scandal has prompted its own category of conspiracy theorizing.)
The unsourced allegations in Italy’s La Repubblica daily — that there existed within the Vatican a “gay network of priests” — triggered a media firestorm, especially after they were disseminated to the English-speaking world by Britain’s Guardian newspaper. The outcry prompted the Vatican to state that “often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories, that cause serious damage to persons and institutions,” had replaced “the so-called powers, i.e., States,” which had “exerted pressures on the election of the Pope.”
The Vatican may prize secrecy, but it has proved especially prone to leaks. (At a Thursday briefing, Vatican spokesmen expressed frustration about the indiscretions and invited the reporters in the room to name the sources if they knew them.) What separates the Vaticanisti from one another is the accuracy of the gossip they publish.
“I don’t have a horse in this race or anyone I’m trying to defend or support with my articles,” said Tornielli, who in the past has said there is an anti-Catholic bias in the mainstream media. “I challenge anyone to find in my articles evidence that I’m on one side or the other. I’m just trying to describe things and the mechanisms of power as they are.”