A rumor swirling around online claims that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down because of legal action being taken against him over his alleged involvement in the Roman Catholic Church's priest sex abuse scandal.
Addicting Info, a left-wing website devoted to debunking right-wing ideas, posted a story last Thursday claiming that there was an arrest warrant from an unknown European country.
"…the Pope, whose given name is Joseph Ratzinger, has a meeting with the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano on February 23 to beg for immunity against prosecution for allegations of child sex crimes," wrote Shannon Barber of Addicting Info.
"Apparently, this hastily arranged meeting, and likely the resignation as well, are the result of a supposed note received by the Vatican from an undisclosed European government that stated that there are plans to issue a warrant for the Pope's arrest."
The Addicting Info story has been picked up by several websites, including one titled "1 Million Voices Against CBCP," which describes itself as opposing the "theocratic dictatorship" of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines.
"The Catholic Church truly knows no bounds when it comes to protecting their priests, no matter how heinous the crimes," wrote an anonymous author on the site under the story title of "Pope received news of his warrant of arrest before resignation."
A similar story of the Pope meeting with Italian President Napolitano over immunity also appeared on the website of Stuart Wilde, a metaphysical author and teacher.
Wilde cites as his source for the information the International Tribunal Into Crimes of Church and State, a London-based group that believes the "abuse, trafficking, torture and murder of children appears endemic to European culture."
Barber of Addicting Info also cites as the source for the story an entry on the International Tribunal website. The entry refers to the Pope as a "war criminal" and says that the meeting with the Italian president means the "Roman Church admits the Pope's Guilt."
On Monday, Feb. 11, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, being the first pontiff in some 600 years to do so. The 85-year-old Bishop of Rome cited the effects of "advanced age" as his reason rather than any legal troubles.
Laced with the word "allegedly," the circulating rumor about a connection between the Pope's resignation and legal battles surrounding culpability in the priest abuse scandal has its problems.
According to a Reuters story posted Sunday on The Huffington Post, the Pope is presently not named in any court case pertaining to the international sex abuse scandal. Further, in the past the Pope was named as a defendant in cases.
"In 2010, for example, Benedict was named as a defendant in a law suit alleging that he failed to take action as a cardinal in 1995 when he was allegedly told about a priest who had abused boys at a U.S. school for the deaf decades earlier," wrote Philip Pullella of Reuters.
"The lawyers withdrew the case last year and the Vatican said it was a major victory that proved the pope could not be held liable for the actions of abusive priests. Benedict is currently not named specifically in any other case. The Vatican does not expect any more but is not ruling out the possibility."
Recently the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Center for Constitutional Rights did attempt to bring a suit against the Pontiff over the issue to the International Criminal Court, however the ICC refused to hear the case.
A possible source for the rumor of an arrest warrant and clandestine meeting over immunity regarding the priest abuse scandal was a statement by an anonymous Vatican City official. The unnamed source told Reuters that one of the reasons Pope Benedict XVI will be living in Vatican after his retirement would be to protect him from frivolous harassment, legal or otherwise.
"His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless. He wouldn't have his immunity, his prerogatives, his security, if he is anywhere else," said the anonymous source.
"I see a big problem if he would go anywhere else. I'm thinking in terms of his personal security, his safety. We don't have a secret service that can devote huge resources (like they do) to ex-presidents."
This is not the only rumor to arise since the Pope announced his resignation last week. Some had claimed after the resignation was made public that the Pope was suffering from bone cancer. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke explained in an interview with ABC's Good Morning America that these rumors were "certainly not true."