Conspiracy theories fill Italy media over pope brain tumor story

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Vatican Denies Report That Pope Francis Has a Brain Tumor

VATICAN CITY, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Conspiracy theories worthy of a Dan Brown novel sprouted in the Italian media on Thursday, with accusations that Pope Francis's enemies were looking to undermine him after a newspaper reported he had a brain tumor.

The Vatican angrily denied Wednesday's story, calling it irresponsible and inexcusable, but rather than fading out of sight, the saga has inflated into a cloak-and-dagger whodunnit.

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"Who wants the pope dead," the main headline in Il Giornale newspaper said. La Repubblica and La Stampa, both respected dailies, wrote of a "shadow of a plot" on their front pages.

See photos of adoring fans of the pope in the US:

50 PHOTOS
Pope's visit to the U.S. (Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia)
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Conspiracy theories fill Italy media over pope brain tumor story
Pope Francis reaches out to 5th grader Omodele Ojo, of the Brooklyn borough of New York, as he is greeted while arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, Pool)
Pope Francis waves from his car, a Fiat 500, after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. The Pope is spending three days in Washington before heading to New York and Philadelphia. This is the Pope's first visit to the United States. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Pope Francis, left, walks with President Barack Obama, right, after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. The Pope is spending three days in Washington before heading to New York and Philadelphia. This is the Pope's first visit to the United States. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Pope Francis waves from a Fiat 500 as his motorcade departs from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, where President and Mrs. Obama welcomed him. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk down the Colonnade before meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Pope Francis wave to the crowd on the South Lawn from the Truman Balcony of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, during a state arrival ceremony. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama talks with Pope Francis in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis give the thumbs-up from the popemobile during a parade around the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
ADDS NAME OF GIRL - Pope Francis reaches to give a blessing to Sophie Cruz, 5, from suburban Los Angeles, during a parade in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. She also delivered a bright yellow T-shirt and a letter expressing wishes that her mother and father and millions of others who are in the U.S. illegally are allowed to remain in the country. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
Seminarians greet Pope Francis, bottom center, as he walks into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, before holding a mass to canonize Junipero Serra. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
Nuns sit in their pews while waiting for Pope Francis to arrive inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the popemobile during a parade in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, following a state arrival ceremony at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
Pope Francis conducts Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The sun begins to rise as people gather on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, for a chance to see Pope Francis. The pope spoke to the crowd outside from a balcony after his address to a joint meeting of Congress. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Pope Francis listens to applause before addressing a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Cartrice Haynesworth, center, has a selfie taken with Pope Francis as he walks through the crowd during a visit to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/David Goldman, Pool)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Mark Perez wears a button bearing the image of Pope Francis while waiting for him to arrive for a visit to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington September 24, 2015, in Washington, DC. The charity serves dinner to about 300 homeless people daily at the site, and it will serve a meal during the pope's visit. (Photo by David Goldman-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis touches the cheek of a young girl as he prepares to depart the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, en route to Andrews Air Force Base. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Pope Francis, accompanied by members of Congress, waves to the crowd from the Speakers Balcony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, after addressing a joint meeting of Congress inside. Doug Mills / The New York Times via AP, Pool))
Pope Francis carries his own briefcase up the stairs before boarding his plane before leaving from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to New York, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A New York City police officer searches nuns outside St. Patrick's Cathedral prior to the arrival of Pope Francis in New York, Thursday Sept. 24, 2015. (Damon Winter/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
Pope Francis engages well-wishers including Gerard Gubatan, of the Brooklyn borough of New York, center left, after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, Pool)
Pope Francisí motorcade moves through New York City streets, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, on the way to St. Patrickís Cathedral where he will lead an evening prayer service. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, Pool)
Audience members await the entrance of Pope Francis before he leads an evening prayer service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today via AP, Pool)
Faithful cheer as Pope Francis enters St. Patrick's Cathedral to lead an evening prayer service Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis waves at the audience while sitting in the head of state chair before addressing the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Pope Francis addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Pope Francis places a white rose at the South Pool of the 9/11 Memorial in downtown Manhattan, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Pope Francis, center left, reads during a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Museum, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 in New York. The Pope is on a two-day visit to New York which includes addressing the United Nations and holding mass at Madison Square Garden before heading to Philadelphia. (Monika Graff/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis visits the 9/11 Museum, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 in New York. (Susan Watts/New York Daily News via AP, Pool)
NEW YORK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis visits Our Lady Queen of Angels School September 25, 2015 in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The pope is in New York on a two-day visit carrying out a number of engagements, including a papal motorcade through Central Park and celebrating Mass in Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Kena Betancur-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis, center, enters Madison Square Garden to celebrate Mass, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 New York. (Andrew Burton/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis celebrates high Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept 25, 2015, in New York. (Alejandra Villa/Newsday via AP, Pool)
A crucifix hangs above member of the clergy who watch as Pope Francis, not shown, celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 New York. (Michael Appleton/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
In this photo provided by World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis kisses and blesses Michael Keating, 10, of Elverson, Pa after arriving in Philadelphia and exiting his car when he saw the boy, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, at Philadelphia International Airport. Keating has cerebral palsy and is the son of Chuck Keating, director of the Bishop Shanahan High School band that performed at Pope Francis' airport arrival. (Joseph Gidjunis/World Meeting of Families via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Colleen Feldmann, of Fallsington, Pa., center, and Sister Donna with Missionaries of Charity in India, right, cheer as Pope Francis arrives at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. Francis wraps up his U.S. visit this weekend in Philadelphia, where he speaks in front of Independence Hall and celebrates Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to close out a big rally on Catholic families. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Pope Francis passes the crowd in his pope mobile on Independence Mall in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. The pope spoke at Independence Hall on his first visit to the United States. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson, Pool)
Pope Francis makes his way to the World Meeting of Families festival along Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (Jewel Samad/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the popemobile during a parade along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday, June 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd during a parade Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. The pontiff attended a music-and-prayer festival there Saturday night to close out the World Meeting of Families, a Vatican-sponsored conference of more than 18,000 people from around the world. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, Pool)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 26: Pope Francis waves to the crowd gathered on the route to the Festival of Families along Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Pope is concluding his U.S. tour by spending two days in Philadelphia, having visited Washington D.C. and New York City. (Photo by Eric Thayer-Pool/Getty Images)
American singer Aretha Franklin sings as Pope Francis and others listen during the World Meeting of Families festival in Philadelphia, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis greets inmates during his visit to Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pool)
Pope Francis gestures to inmates next to a wooden chair made for him by inmates during his visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
People gather on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway before the Papal Mass on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Philadelphia. Pope Francis is in Philadelphia for the last leg of his six-day visit to the United States. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
Pope Francis waves from his popemobile as he heads to celebrate Mass at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
WYNNEWOOD, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis greets seminarians as he walks the loggia to his address to the Bishops at St. Martin of Tours Chapel at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, September 27, 2015 in Wynnewwod, Pennsylvania. After visiting Washington and New York City, Pope Francis concludes his tour of the U.S. with events in Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday. ((Photo by Tom Gralish-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia as he departs for Rome on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. Pope Francis wrapped up his 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States on Sunday. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson, pool)
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Most papers concluded that the story was false. But rather than dismissing it as a journalistic error, commentators and churchmen in the land that gave the world Machiavelli, the master of political cunning, looked for hidden intrigue.

The common denominator was that the pope's foes within the Vatican and the Catholic Church want to weaken his authority as a pivotal meeting of world bishops on family issues nears its end on Sunday.

La Repubblica quoted Argentine Bishop Victor Manuel Fernandez as fearing a well-planned "apocalyptic strategy" against Francis by conservatives who want to destabilize the Church and block his attempts to change it.

Leading political columnist Massimo Franco wrote in Corriere della Sera daily that the story was probably "hatched in the most murky Vatican underground and was aimed at de-legitimizing the pontiff."

It all stemmed from a report in Quotidiano Nazionale that a Japanese doctor had secretly visited the Vatican in January to examine the pope and concluded that he had a benign tumor that could be treated without surgery.

The Vatican issued three detailed denials and the doctor, Takanori Fukushima, released a statement through his office in North Carolina that said: "I have never medically examined the pope. These stories are completely false."

Fukushima's office said he shook the pope's hand alongside thousands of people at a general audience, but nothing more.

Quotidiano Nazionale said on Thursday it stuck by its story.

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But the Vatican's own newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said the timing of "false news" was fishy. "The moment chosen unmasks an attempt to raise a cloud of dust in order to manipulate."

"Some, both inside and outside the Church, are nervous about the outcome of the synod," said German Cardinal Walter Kasper, a progressive close to the pope.

"It's clear that some people don't like this pope ... but the pope is in good shape and the attempt will be in vain," he told Corriere della Sera.

Conservatives at the gathering oppose changes to doctrine on issues such as how to minister to homosexuals and divorced Catholics by showing more mercy and less condemnation.

The pope has said he wants to show more mercy without changing fundamental rules. (Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Tom Heneghan)

RELATED GALLERY: See photos of the pope's mass at Madison Square Garden:

23 PHOTOS
Pope Francis: Mass at Madison Square Garden
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Conspiracy theories fill Italy media over pope brain tumor story
Pope Francis celebrates high Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept 25, 2015, in New York. (Alejandra Villa/Newsday via AP, Pool)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Participants listen to Pope Francis as he celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The Pope ends his New York visit after a day of activities with the mass at Madison Square Garden and leaves for Philadelphia in the morning. (Photo by Alejandra Villa - Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: The clergy and Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The Pope ends his New York visit after a day of activities with the mass at Madison Square Garden and leaves for Philadelphia in the morning. (Photo by Alejandra Villa - Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis celebrating Mass Madison Square Garden September 25, 2015 in New York. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The pope is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, that included a stop in Washington D.C. and includes one in Philadelphia. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Pope Francis arrives to lead mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The pope is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, that included a stop in Washington D.C. and includes one in Philadelphia. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Pope Francis listens to the readings while celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)
Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)
Gloria Estefan sings "Mas Alla" prior to Pope Francis celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 in New York. (Andrew Burton/Pool Photo via AP)
Harry Connick Jr. sings "How Great Thou Art" prior to the Mass led by Pope Francis at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis reads his homily while celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis arrives at Madison Square Garden to celebrate Mass on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis reads his homily while celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis enters Madison Square Garden to lead mass on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
A crucifix hangs above member of the clergy who watch as Pope Francis, not shown, celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 New York. (Michael Appleton/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
A participant listens as Pope Francis delivers his homily during Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)
A participant takes a photo as Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The Pope is on a six-day visit to the U.S., with stops in Washington DC, New York City and Philadelphia. (Photo by Michael Appleton-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Participants watch as Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
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