Assassination plot feared after cardinal warns: 'Pope will die'

Predictions of Benedict's death lead to delivery of secret letter to Vatican, written in German

LAST UPDATED AT 14:35 ON Fri 10 Feb 2012

BIZARRE rumours of a plot to assassinate Pope Benedict XVI have caused a sensation in Italy after a senior cardinal prophesied, while on a secretive trip to China, that the Pontiff would die within 12 months.

The prediction was made by Cardinal Paolo Romeo, the archbishop of Palermo in Sicily, to a group of Italian businessmen and Chinese Catholics last year. They were so startled by what he said that they feared that the Pope's life could be in danger.

Their concerns appear to have set in motion a cloak-and-dagger operation to warn the Pope, that ended with a secret letter being delivered to the Vatican by Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos of Colombia.

Even more intriguingly, according to The Daily Telegraph: "The report was written in German, apparently to limit the number of people within the Vatican who would understand it if it was inadvertently leaked." The letter was labelled 'strictly confidential for the Holy Father', and warned of a "mordkomplott" - death plot - against Benedict.

It all sounds too much like the plot of a Dan Brown novel and the Vatican has dismissed the story as "nonsense not to be taken seriously".

The Guardian questions whether the "mysterious" China trip ever even happened. Cardinal Romeo's visit "was not widely reported publicly," it notes. However, the paper says the revelations, carried in the Italian paper Il Fatto Quotidiano, are "further proof that a messy internal power dispute is unfolding inside the Vatican".

The bizarre claims also shed some light on the issue of the papal succession. Cardinal Romeo apparently told his audience in China that the next Pope would be Angelo Scola, the current archbishop of Milan.

The story is not the only odd tale to emerge from the Vatican recently. Earlier this week, the exorcist for the diocese of Rome, Father Amorth, claimed Benedict had inadvertantly carried out two exorcisms from his Popemobile in 2009.

The Telegraph reported that Father Amorth took two possessed men to St Peter's Square where the presence of the Pope drove away their demons. · 

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