March 5th, 2013
01:57 PM ET
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
(CNN) – Move over, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the Virginia ex-couple who famously – or infamously – crashed President Obama’s first White House state dinner. There’s a new impostor posing with dignitaries, and he set his sights on an even more coveted gathering.
Meet Ralph Napierski, a German self-declared bishop who reportedly called himself “Basilius,” said he was with the nonexistent “Italian Orthodox Church” and set out to infiltrate a Monday meeting of cardinals at the Vatican.
The fake bishop donned a purple sash (really a scarf) over his vestments and mingled with cardinals and others who’d flown in from around the globe ahead of the conclave to pick a new pope. He smiled wide and posed for cameras while shaking hands with Cardinal Sergio Sebiastiana. He tried to blend in.
But before he could get into Paul VI Hall for a top-secret meeting, the Telegraph reported, Napierski was nabbed and booted by Swiss Guards. Seems the disguise, which was a little off, gave him away. The cassock was too short, the crucifix around his neck a bit different, the purple scarf conspicuous against all the red. The fedora on his head, against all the skullcaps, probably didn’t help.
Napierski, who disputes the media reports, apparently runs several websites, including one dedicated to Jesus Yoga. In a rambling blog called Corpus Dei, which he describes as a “Catholic order after episcopal law,” he writes that he is “a slave and apostle like St. Paul” and “is fighting the Heresy and false movements inside the Roman Catholic Church.”
He also claims to be an “internet hacker and activist” and an inventor who came up with “a system to enable persons to control computers with the Power of thoughts.”
What he was thinking on Monday at the Vatican is unknown. But the International Business Times said he told reporters “that he believed Catholic bishops were wrong to move priests who had been accused of sexual abuses around various parishes, prompting the Daily Mail to describe him as a ‘child abuse protester.’ ”
CNN reached out to Napierski on Tuesday, hoping to hear his side of the story. In an e-mail response he sent late in the day, he provided a link to a blog entry in which he denied what had been reported. He titled the entry, " 'Conclavebuster' Bishop Ralph Napierski and The Vatican Scandal that never happened - Truth revealed!"
He claimed that he was simply there in his capacity as a Catholic bishop and visited, with three of his priests, to announce the creation of the Congregation of Our Lady of Refuge, which he said he founded. He had a "wonderful small talk" with the cardinal he was photographed with, he wrote, adding that he even returned to the Vatican Monday night - after seeing the media reports - to get confirmation that he hadn't been kicked out.
German press, however, said Napierski cannot be trusted.
Spiegel Online reported on Tuesday that Napierski is "known among German clerics as something of a troublemaker." He has a history of "posing as a priest with church officials and politicians, and he also made an appearance at Berlin's Venus erotica trade fair."
"He does not work with any of our institutions in any way," Berlin Catholic diocese spokesman Matthias Kopp told Bild Zeitung, a German daily tabloid, according to Spiegel Online. "Napierski is 'self-aggrandizing,' frequently pens angry letters, and preaches about sex, the paper reports. ... Kopp told the paper that his behavior was 'unacceptable.' "
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.