The Pope will die within the next 12 months, a senior Vatican figure has reportedly claimed amid fears of an assassination plot.
The sensational prediction was allegedly made by Cardinal Paolo Romeo, the archbishop of Palermo in Sicily, on a recent visit to China.
Cardinal Romeo reportedly made the startling prediction of the Pope's death during a trip to China in November 2011.
He seemed so sure of the fact that the people he spoke with, including Italian businessmen and Chinese representatives of the Catholic Church, were convinced that he was talking about an assassination attempt.
They were so alarmed by his remarks that they reported them back to the Vatican.
The extraordinary comments were written up in a top-secret report, dated Dec 30, 2011, and delivered to the Pope by a senior cardinal, Dario Castrillon Hoyos, a Colombian, in January.
The Vatican has reportedly opened an investigation into the claims.
The report was written in German, apparently to limit the number of people within the Vatican who would understand it if it was inadvertently leaked.
It warns of a "Mordkomplott" death plot against Benedict.
The story was broken on Friday by an Italian daily, Il Fatto Quotidiano, with the headline "Plot against the Pope he will die within 12 months".
The newspaper, which has a reputation for scoops, published a page from the confidential report.
"During his talks in China, Cardinal Romeo predicted the death of Benedict XVI within 12 months. His remarks were expressed with such certainty and resolution that the people he was speaking to thought, with a sense of alarm, that an attack on the Pope's life was being planned," the paper reported.