He called himself "Basilius" and showed up wearing a cassock that was too short, a strange-looking chain with a crucifix and a purple shawl instead of the traditional sash. The man who managed to slip into the Vatican on Monday and mingle with cardinals was not a bishop as he claimed. He was German Ralph Napierski, who is known among German clerics as something of a troublemaker.
The fake bishop snuck into the Vatican along with dozens of cardinals who were there making preparations to elect a new pope later this month, according to Italian news agency ANSA. Though he managed to go unnoticed for a time, even posing for a photo with Cardinal Sergio Sebiastiana, he was "eventually identified and kicked out to the visible amusement of journalists nearby," ANSA reported.
Before he was discovered, Napierski proclaimed that Catholic bishops had made mistakes in their handling of priests accused of child abuse. The Swiss Guard escorted him from the premises.
It was not the first time that Napierski has gotten the church's attention, the paper reports. On one of his several websites, he claims to be a Catholic bishop and leader of an order in Berlin called "Corpus Dei." Photographs show him posing as a priest with church officials and politicians, and he also made an appearance at Berlin's Venus erotica trade fair.
Sources within the church told the paper that Napierski is not to be trusted. He is known to church officials, said Matthias Kopp, a spokesman for the Berlin Catholic diocese. "He does not work with any of our institutions in any way," he said. Napierski is "self-aggrandizing," frequently pens angry letters, and preaches about sex, the paper reports. Additionally, he preaches the benefits of a practice he calls "Jesus Yoga."
The German Bishops' Conference (DBK), also warned against taking Napierski seriously. Spokesman Matthias Kopp told the paper that his behavior was "unacceptable."
Preparations for the papal vote began on Monday with preliminary talks among cardinals, who arrived at the Vatican for the private meetings that will determine when to begin the conclave to select the next pope. Their goal appears to be to make a decision by next week to have a new pontiff in place ahead of the Easter celebrations. Benedict XVI stunned church officials by becoming the first pope to step down from the lifelong position in over 600 years.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
Photo-Credit: AP: Ralph Napierski