Pope Benedict XVI will die within a year, according to a top-secret document published on Friday by the Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano.
Dismissed by the Vatican as "nonsense not to be taken seriously," the anonymous report is dated Dec 30, 2011.
Like a Dan Brown-style thriller, the leaked document reveals a power struggle within the Vatican. The paper predicts the Pope's death by November 2012 and details the measures that are already being taken to prepare his successor.
According to the Italian daily, the letter was delivered in early January to the Vatican secretary of state and the pope's private secretary by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos of Colombia.
Written in German and labelled "strictly confidential for the Holy Father," the "mordkomplott" begins by describing the conversations that Cardinal Paolo Romeo, the archbishop of Palermo, allegedly had last November with Italian businessmen during a trip to Beijing, China.
"During his talks in China, Cardinal Romeo predicted the death of Pope Benedict XVI within the next 12 months. His remarks were expressed with such resolution that his interlocutors thought, with a sense of alarm, that an attack on the Pope's life was being plotted," the document says.
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According to the anonymous writer, "Cardinal Romeo could never have imagined that his indiscreet remarks would be communicated back to the Vatican by third parties."
The letter stated that the 73-year-old Romeo, who has a long career as a Vatican diplomat and belongs to the more conservative wing of the church, harshly criticized Benedict XVI as he would concentrate too much on liturgy, disregarding the daily business. These would be left to the expertise of the Secretary of State, cardinal Tarcisio Bertone - not without internal problems.
"In a confidential atmosphere, Cardinal Romeo reported that the Pope would literally hate Tarcisio Bertone and happily substitute him with another Cardinal. However there would not be another candidate able to stand that position," the document said.
The letter continued with the sensational prediction of Benedict's immanent death.
"As if he knew that with certainty, Cardinal Romeo announced that the Holy Father has just 12 months of life left," the letter said.
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It then revealed that Benedict XVI would be secretly working on his succession and would have chosen cardinal Angelo Scola as the next Pope.
Cardinal Scola was previously the Patriarch of Venice, but was promoted archbishop of Milan by Benedict in June last year.
In his new position, Scola would prepare himself - "slowly but inexorably," said the letter – to become the next Pope.
The Vatican spokesman, father Federico Lombardi downplayed the report saying that it seemed to him "something that is so far from reality that I don't even want to comment it."
Talking to the news agency AFP, Lombardi did not deny the existence of the document but added that its contents contain "crazy considerations that are devoid of any reality."
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"It is so outside of reality that it should not be given any consideration," Cardinal Romeo remarked in a statement.
According to Il Fatto Quotidiano, the leaked document provides further evidence that a power struggle is taking place inside the Vatican.
The newspaper, which is known for scoops, recently published a letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, currently Pope Benedict's ambassador in Washington, which contained serious charges of corruption, mismanagement and greed inside the Vatican.
"Now we have this document which reports the death of the Pope with certainty...The Holy Roman Church should explain why such death previsions circulate among its Cardinals," the paper wrote.
Throughout the ages, several Popes have been murdered under various circumstances and various assassination attempts occurred.
The most recent attempt on a pope's life was in 1981 when the late John Paul II, who died in 2005, was shot as he greeted crowds in St Peter's Square by Turkish hit man Mehmet Ali Agca.
In 1978, Pope John Paul I, died suddenly after a reign of just 33 days. A heart attack was the official cause of death, but conspiracy theories rapidly spread that the pope was poisoned because he planned to expose a Vatican banking scandal.
Image: Pope Benedict XVI. Credit: Broc/Wikimedia Commons.