Berlusconi-Owned Gossip Magazine First to Publish Photos of Retired Pope

Silvio Berlusconi pray - P 2013
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The magazine "Chi" has not been shy about publishing controversial photos, being the first to show a pregnant Kate Middleton in a bikini.

ROME -- Chi, the Silvio Berlusconi-owned gossip magazine that earned international headlines when it published photos of a pregnant Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton in a bikini over protests from Buckingham Palace, is the first publication to show photos of the retired Pope Benedict XVI.

Benedict, now called pontiff emeritus, shocked the world last month when he announced he would become the fist pope in nearly 600 years to abdicate.

Last week, he retired temporarily to the apostolic palace in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, where the photo spread in Chi showed him strolling the gardens wearing what appeared to be a white baseball cap and white jacket and leaning on a black cane. He was accompanied by his personal secretary Georg Gaenswein in one photo and by a group of personal housekeepers who followed Benedict into retirement, in another.

It is not clear how paparazzi gained access to the palace’s gardens, where the shots appeared to have been taken from behind thick bushes.

As Benedict enjoys the early days of his retirement, activity in the Vatican is heating up as it prepares to host the conclave to select the next leader for the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics. The conclave dates are expected to be announced in the coming days.

Chi is one of the most high-profile print publications in Berlusconi’s media empire, which also includes three national Italian television networks and one in Spain, plus the Medusa cinema production and distribution house, and the Milan-based newspaper Il Giornale

The Vatican has not complained about the unsanctioned photos of Benedict. If it does comment, however, it's unlikely to worry Chi director Alfonso Signorini, who has courted controversy in the past.

In addition to publishing the pregnant bikini photos of Middleton with her husband, Prince William, the magazine was also among the first to publish controversial topless photos of Middleton last year. But the magazine was not the first: that distinction, again despite complaints from the royal family, went to the French gossip mag Closer -- also owned by Berlusconi.