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NEW YORK – Pope Francis’ decision to replace the Vatican secretary-of-state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a close friend of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, has prompted speculation among seasoned Vatican observers that the dismissal announced Friday was a fallout of efforts to reform the Vatican Bank.

Secretary of state is arguably the most powerful Vatican office, second only to that of the pope.

The current controversy began with a series of tweets posted by 30-year-old journalist Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, the only female and the only Italian appointed by Pope Francis to the eight-person Vatican financial reform panel now looking into claims of Vatican Bank impropriety.

After being appointed to the reform panel, Chaouqui attacked former Italian minister of the economy Giulo Tremonti in a tweet that read: “Tremonti held an account with the Vatican Bank. They shut it down when they found out he was gay.”

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Chaouqui has a history of controversial Twitter posts, having tweeted in February that former pope Benedict XVI had cancer, a claim that has not been substantiated.

Before her appointment, Chaouqui also posted a tweet calling Cardinal Bertone “corrupt,” alleging he had questionable business links to an unspecified Italian company.

In response, Tremonti has threatened to sue Chaouqui as well as Alessandro Sallustri, the editor-in-chief of Il Giornale, the Italian daily newspaper that first published Chaouqui’s offensive tweets.

On Aug. 26, Sandro Magister, an influential Vatican journalist who writes for the Italian news magazine L’Espresso, accused Chaouqui of being the source of what in Italy is known as the “Vatileaks” scandal involving Vatican documents embarrassing to Pope Benedict XVI. The documents were stolen by a valet to the pope and first published in March by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

The Vatileaks documents allegedly exposed financial corruption involving the Vatican Bank as well as schemes to blackmail various homosexual clergy.

Sandro Magister also has charged that Msgr. Battista Ricca, the cleric tapped by Pope Francis to become prelate of the Vatican Bank, was involved in a homosexual scandal of his own. Magister has insisted in print that Msgr. Ricca’s continued presence at the Vatican Bank is a “glaring contradiction” to Pope Francis’ claims for reform.

All this sounded a bit like a B-rated soap opera until Friday, when Francis made the stunning announcement that he is preparing to replace Bertone, a powerful figure within the Vatican and a close friend of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before Ratzinger became pope.

The Corriere della Sera newspaper reported Friday that to replace Bertone, Francis has chosen Venezuelan Archbishop Pietro Parolin, a 58-year-old prelate who has worked in Nigeria and Mexico for the Vatican office of secretary of state under Bertone.

The newspaper also reported speculation that Bertone will be allowed to retain his position of president of the Commission of Cardinals only until December, when the European Union’s MONEVAL Committee is expected to release a report on anti-money laundering practices in the Vatican that is anticipated to be highly critical of the Holy See.

Bertone’s position on the commission was bestowed on him after Ratzinger decided to resign as pope,

In a television interview in Venezuela after the announcement, Archbishop Parolin said he was “very emotional” on being informed of Pope Francis’ decision.

Controversy continues over charges that during the papacy of John Paul II, Cardinals Ratzinger and Bertone, in their functions as top officials in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, conspired not to release the complete and final text and commentary associated with what is known as the “Third Secret” of Fatima.

The Third Secret is an apocalyptic prophecy possibly forecasting the assassination of the pope through corruption within the church that threatens its very survival. It was said to be communicated by the Virgin Mary to three young Portuguese shepherds in a series of visions starting on May 13, 1917.

In an attempt to end the controversy over the Virgin’s message to the peasant children at Fatima, Bertone published a book, “The Last Secret of Fatima: My Conversations with Sister Lucia,” with a foreword written by Ratzinger, who by the time the book was published was already positioned as Pope Benedict XVI.

In the book, both Ratzinger and Bertone insist the Catholic Church has withheld nothing of the Third Secret.

In 2000, Ratzinger and Bertone collaborated to have Pope John II release the Third Secret to the world in a proclamation issued that year, reversing a previous decision made in 1960 by Pope John XXIII.

Then, Pope John XXII decided to withhold the secret because its contents at the time were considered too explosive, despite the insistence by Sister Lucia, one of the three Portuguese seers at Fatima, that the Virgin had specifically asked for the Third Secret to be made public in 1960.

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