An Italian newspaper has leaked what it claims is a classified document detailing a discussion about an assassination plot against Pope Benedict XVI.
"A plot against the Pope: dead within 12 months," the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reports in its staggering headline.
The memo, which has been dismissed as "beyond consideration" by papal officials, details speculation by Cardinal Paolo Romeo, archbishop of Palermo in Sicily, that the pope would be dead within a year.
It reports conversations the archbishop had with some Italian businessmen and Chinese church representatives, in which he discussed the pope's demise.
The note says the businessmen thought the archbishop was talking about an assassination.
The 'confidential' note about the discussion was received by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the paper claims, from an anonymous source.
The paper said that the note was also received by the Vatican's secretary of state.
Written in German and dated 30 December 2011, the note was only handed over in January 2012 by Cardinal Hoyos, said the paper who read it and asked the Vatican to launch an inquiry.
The note reportedly says (translation from Italian):
"Cardinal Paolo Romeo, Archbishop of Palermo, November 2011 - trip to Beijing: During his meetings in China, Cardinal Romeo voiced the prophecy of Pope Benedict's death within 12 months.
"The declarations of the Cardinal have been stated with such certainty and constancy that his interlocutors in China were afraid that an attempt against the pontiff's life was being planned."
The anonymous author refers to Romeo as a boaster, who referred to himself as an expert in Chinese espionage, in addition to being part of a secret cabal ruling Pope Benedict's papacy behind the scenes.
"Cardinal Romeo surprised his interlocutors in Beijing as he informed them that he forms along with the Holy Father and Cardinal Scola a troika," the note said.
It went on:
"Cardinal Romeo blamed the Pope for his predominant concern with the liturgy and his neglect of current affairs."
Finally, the note covers the Pope's succession, considering every possible outcome of Ratzinger's death.
"Confidentially, the Holy Father is arranging his succession and has already chosen Cardinal Scola as a suitable candidate, mainly because of their similar personalities."
The document ends:
"Cardinal Romeo felt safe and could have never imagine that the declarations he delivered in secret conversations could be transmitted by a third party to the Vatican."
The Vatican has denied the document has any basis in reality.
Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican's press office, said: