Keeping up NBC's barrage of attacks against the Catholic Church in the days leading up to Pope Benedict XVI's abdication, on Wednesday's Today, correspondent Anne Thompson made this nasty declaration: "...as one observer said, the stiletto knives came out as the battle for control of this institution begins, that some say is a holy mess....reports of infighting, back stabbing, and political jockeying that could make corporate America or Capitol Hill blush." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Thompson never bothered to identify the "observer" she mentioned nor the origin of the "reports" she cited. Wrapping up the piece, Thompson asked Italian novelist Alessandra Borghese: "Could you make up the drama that's going on inside the Vatican?...You couldn't make this stuff up?"
Co-host Savannah Guthrie, reporting live from the Vatican, conducted two interviews with Church officials during the 7 a.m. ET hour of the morning show. First she grilled Vatican senior communications adviser Greg Burke about the "raft of conspiracy theories about what was really behind" the Pontiff's decision to step down, skeptically wondering: "Can you confidently say that this pope's decision has to do with his health, and his health alone?"
Burke replied: "I take the Pope at his word. I think we should as well. And then there will be all the conspiracy theories. I mean, people sell novels, you know, millions of copies, with conspiracy theories."
Guthrie went so far as to compare the papal abdication to the mythical release of evils upon the world: "Some people look at this resignation as a great act of humility, putting the institution above any one person. On the other hand, do you think in some ways it's left the Church vulnerable? It seems this Pandora's Box has suddenly been opened."
Burke shot back: "'Opened up a Pandora's Box' is the opinion of some. But it's really – he [Pope Benedict] has faith."
In her second interview, with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington D.C., Guthrie kept up the pressure: "...the scandals and controversies the Church has faced. I won't rattle them off again, but do you feel that finding somebody that can restore credibility to the institution is an urgent matter in electing the next pope?"
NBC's coverage of the Church since Pope Benedict announced his decision to step down:
It seems the network is guilty of taking out the knives.
Here is a full transcript of Thompson's February 27 report:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: We've got more on the historic abdication of Pope Benedict XVI and the current state of the Catholic Church. NBC's Anne Thompson is here with me at the Vatican with more on that. Anne, good morning, good to see you.
ANNE THOMPSON: Good morning, Savannah. Good to see you, too. You know, as soon as Benedict announced his abdication, as one observer said, the stiletto knives came out as the battle for control of this institution begins, that some say is a holy mess.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI; The Catholic Church in Turmoil]
It's been a tumultuous eight years for the Church and Benedict, allegations of sex abuse, money laundering at the Vatican Bank, the Pope's own butler stealing documents, and reports of infighting, back stabbing, and political jockeying that could make corporate America or Capitol Hill blush.
Alessandra Borghese has known the Pope for fourteen years. She's written both fact and fiction about Vatican intrigue, including a biography about her devoted friend when he was just Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. She admits he isn't much of a manager.
ALESSANDRA BORGHESE: They would say John Paul II was much more vigorous. When he wanted something, it really was, "Now!" I mean, Joseph Ratzinger is not "now," but is trying to convince – maybe try to convince to make people, reasoning in a certain way, but he didn't succeed.
THOMPSON: Even the most faithful say his legacy will be mixed, with great accolades for his teachings and writings, but criticism for some of his leadership.
FATHER GREG APPARCEL: Success is a hard word to say. Because, I mean, there's been highs and lows, there's been issues to deal with that have been very, very serious.
THOMPSON: Father Apparcel, pastor of the American church in Rome, says the abuse of children by priests has driven people away from the Church.
APPARCEL: I think there's all kinds of rules and regulations that have been set up to protect children more so that this does not happen again.
THOMPSON: The growing consensus is the next pope must be a strong manager, able to take on the challenges and reign in a dysfunctional Vatican bureaucracy. A man with universal appeal to lead this global institution, and charisma never hurts.
BORGHESE: I hope he's going to be a man with faith, and a man with vision, and can look forward. Also, get the crowd to believe and say, "I love you, I count on you, be strong. We have to make it together."
THOMPSON: Borghese's latest book is a novel about the Vatican in the 17th century. But she says today there's no more fascinating story than the one playing out in St. Peter's Square. Could you make up the drama that's going on inside the Vatican?
BORGESE: I have good fantasy, but I don't think so.
THOMPSON: You couldn't make this stuff up?
BORGESE: No. I think nowadays reality is better than novel.
GUTHRIE: That was NBC's Anne Thompson reporting.