Catholicism has long been the target of rumors that it is a key player in a wide-ranging conspiracy that alleges that there is a global organization of powerful elites called the Illuminati that controls world events and is working to establish a New World Order government to rule the world.
Twitter, a reliable hotbed for the latest assertions by conspiracy-watchers around the world, was on fire with such rumors throughout the day on Thursday.
One of the most popular tweets connecting the pope to the Illuminati came, unsurprisingly, from the popular @TheIlluminati account.
"The pope resigned because he's joining the illuminati," the account wrote, garnering 70 retweets within two hours of the message being posted.
Twitter user Sean Sullivan took the rumors a step further, alleging that the pope was meeting at the Vatican (which he dubbed illuminati HQ) with late rapper Tupac, who many people believe never actually died, as well as popular Illuminati rumor targets President Barack Obama and Beyonce.
"Someone photoshop a pic of the pope, beyonce, obama, and tupac partying. Cause thats wats happening at illuminati HQ right now#tupaclives," he tweeted.
And Twitter user Brefni O'Rourke connected the pope's resignation (perhaps in jest) to current events, including, oddly, Scott Weiland being fired Wednesday as front man of the Stone Temple Pilots.
"A meteor hits Russia, The Pope quits and Weiland gets fired from STP? Chess moves in the Illuminati's global endgame, people. I'm tellin ya," he tweeted Thursday afternoon.
But not everyone bought into the hype. Twitter user Billy Falidas expressed his skepticism as the rumors built steam.
"Hold up, are people really saying the pope is stepping down because he's joining the illuminati ? #wtf," he tweeted.
This is not the first time this month that rumored connections between the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict and the Illuminati have emerged. When the pope first announced on Feb. 11 that he would be stepping down, a number of conspiracy theorists posited that the Illuminati was behind the resignation.
Even an opinion writer for Pravda, a communist newspaper in Russia, discussed such beliefs two days after Pope Benedict made the unexpected announcement:
"Last night, a lightning stroke [sic] a dome in the city of the Vatican," he wrote, referencing a widely circulated image showing the freak natural occurrence. "Was it a plot of Haarp program or a sign of an angry sky? Of course, it could be considered as a sign of the Illuminati, one day after the pope's resignation, which has despaired many of the traditionalist Catholics who believed in him as their last chance."
Haarp is the acronym for the High Frequency Active Auroral Program, an Alaska-based program funded by the United States military, the University of Alaska and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It has been invoked in a number of wild conspiracy theories, and the Pravda writer, Nicolas Bonnal, invoked the program's name in the same breath as his mention of the Illuminati, pointing to the wide range of rumors that have plagued the Catholic Church since Pope Benedict declared that he would be resigning from the papacy.
A variety of conspiracy theories about the Catholic Church gained international attention when author Dan Brown's popular novels, including 2003 best-seller "The DaVinci Code," discussed a number of conspiracy theories about the founding of Christianity and the history of Catholicism, including the concept that there was a fight between the shadowy Priory of Sion and Opus Dei groups over the possibility that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene.
The popular books include repeated references to -- and symbols of -- leading conspiracies about the church, drawing from rumors about the Knights of the Templar, pentacles, Satanism, the legend of the Holy Grail and more.
The rumors that emerged on Thursday connecting the pope's resignation are the newest iterations of this established line of inquiry.