SO 15 MINUTES...

SO 15 MINUTES AGO. In a sure sign that Da Vinci Code madness is winding down to a mere cultural tic, the most public member of the very secretive Opus Dei yesterday stepped down from his post as the pope's spokesman.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Spanish layman credited with crafting the late Pope John Paul II�s communications juggernaut, has handed in his resignation, most likely at the request of Pope Benedict XVI, who is installing his own guy, an Italian Jesuit named Federico Lombardi.

In addition to making a rock star out of a Polish pope, Navarro-Valls is also seen as the force that brought the right-wing Opus Dei to legitimacy in the Vatican, giving it a direct line to the pontiff.

--Adele M. Stan

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