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Rumours of pope's 'secret meal'

Vatican denies claims of Benedict's 'restaurant outing'

16 June, 18:21
Rumours of pope's 'secret meal' (ANSA) - Vatican City, June 16 - Media speculation over whether Pope Benedict XVI snuck out of the Vatican for a late evening snack at a local restaurant this week continued on Wednesday. The rumour was started by a gossip columnist on Tuesday, who claimed the pontiff had been spotted dining on fish the previous night at a restaurant some 200 metres outside the Vatican walls. The alleged visit took place as Italy played its first World Cup soccer match against Paraguay, leading the columnist to suggest the pope had timed his unofficial outing to take advantage of Rome's empty streets and escape undetected. The restaurant, Al Passetto di Borgo, was one of Benedict's favourite dining spots before his ascent to the papacy, claimed the columnist in the centre-right daily Il Foglio. Well-placed sources inside the Vatican denied the suggestion, telling ANSA it was "entirely untrue". But another daily on Wednesday reported that a waiter at the restaurant had strongly hinted that Benedict had indeed dined there Monday night, when the establishment is normally closed. The restaurant's owner then weighed in, insisting the claims were not true, while Vatican sources suggested the allegations were just gossip, perhaps fuelled by visits in the past. Benedict XVI, in his former incarnation as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, lived in a flat near the Vatican and was apparently a regular client at several local restaurants. He often visited Al Passetto di Borgo with other members of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the office he headed before becoming pope.

However, rather than eating sole, as suggested by the columnist, he apparently had a weakness for German dishes and the restaurant's spaghetti alla carbonara, the owner said. Vatican sources stressed there were no rules preventing the pope embarking on outings of the kind but said he simply had not done so since taking office. They said Benedict was much more reserved than his predecessor John Paul II, whose love of nature regularly led him to "escape" the Vatican for walks in the countryside around Rome.

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