Church officials cannot flatly deny the details being reported about its contents, because they have no idea. All they can say is the stories in the Italian press are "unverified, unverifiable, and even completely false."
At the same time, the church is dealing with a scandal that is verified, verifiable, and all too disturbingly true: the sex abuse scandal, in which several of the cardinals who will be voting on the new pope are implicated themselves, either as abusers or as managers who shielded pedophile priests from the law and covered up for their crimes.
Both stories are upstaging what is supposed to be a deeply spiritual process of choosing the next successor to St. Peter.
But, largely because of the sex abuse scandal, the church has lost some of that air of infallibility it could rely on in years past.
One more point worth making: the blind items in the Italian papers may well be planted by cardinals hoping to spin the process for or against a particular candidate.
The faithful, confronted for a decade now with the failures of priests and prelates, have the confidence to challenge church authority. How the church responds will be a test of grace under fire.
By stepping down, Pope Benedict may have opened the doors to all this. By suddenly announcing his resignation, he has upended tradition, making the papacy presidential.
One thing it's decidedly not is politics as usual.