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:

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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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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:

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Pope Francis: Mass at Madison Square Garden
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Conspiracy theories fill Italy media over pope brain tumor story
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)
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)
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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