Vatican City:  With just days to go before Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, the Vatican is battling persistent rumours that his decision was triggered by an explosive report on intrigue in its corridors of power.

Popes who stepped down: A turbulent history

The secret report compiled by a committee of three cardinals for the pope's eyes only was the result of a wide-ranging investigation into leaks of confidential papers from the Vatican that caused huge embarrassment last year. The cardinals questioned dozens of Vatican officials and presented the pope with their final report in December 2012, just before Benedict pardoned his former butler Paolo Gabriele who had been convicted of leaking the papal memos.
    
The Panorama news weekly and the Repubblica daily said on Saturday that the report contained allegations of corruption and of blackmail attempts against gay Vatican clergymen, as well as favouritism based on gay relationships. Both publications quoted a source with knowledge of the investigation saying that the cardinals' conclusions "revolve around the sixth and seventh commandments" -- "Thou shall not commit adultery" and "Thou shall not steal".
    
The Vatican has declined to comment on these two reports, with spokesman Federico Lombardi saying they were "conjectures, fictions and opinions." The run-up to papal conclaves to elect a new pope is often accompanied by rumours and gossip in Italian media, as rival factions battle for influence. But there was a twist on Saturday when Pope Benedict XVI replaced Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, a powerful behind-the-scenes figure in the Secretariat of State with a major role in handling the Vatican bank's foreign relations. He is being sent as Vatican envoy to Colombia – a serious demotion.
    
Balestrero has been a key figure in Vatican efforts to overhaul its scandal-tainted bank to comply with international anti-money laundering laws. La Repubblica said Balestrero's name was mentioned in the cardinals' report. A Vatican expert at Italian daily La Stampa said the pope would likely meet with the three retired cardinals who authored the report before resigning. The report could also be discussed during a series of meetings for cardinals beginning next Friday, a day after the pope steps down, where priorities for the Catholic Church will be debated and potential papal candidates sussed out.

READ MORE ON POPE BENEDICT XVI

POPE'S EXIT

  • Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will resign on February 28
  • He will be the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years
  • The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415
  • New Pope will be elected by mid-March during a conclave in Vatican 
  • Five Cardinals from India will participate in the conclave at the Vatican in the 'Holy Week' beginning from March 24 and vote to elect the next Pope
  • Only 117 of the total of 206 Cardinals of the Universal Catholic Church will be eligible to vote in the conclave to elect the 266th successor of St. Peter as they are below the age of 80 years
  • The maximum strength of the College of Cardinals, with the right to vote, was fixed as 120
  • The head of the Universal Catholic Church is also known as Successor of St. Peter,The Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, the Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, the Sovereign of the State of Vatican City and the Servant of Servants of God

Vatican condemns scandal
    
The Vatican on Saturday condemned Italian media reports of intrigue, corruption and blackmail among senior prelates, saying these could be a form of pressure to sway voting in next month's conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi dismissed as "gossip, disinformation and sometimes calumny" the reports, which are linked to an investigation by a committee of cardinals last year over a series of damaging leaks of confidential papal documents.
    
In a statement on Vatican radio's website, Lombardi also referred to the upcoming conclave saying there was "unacceptable pressure to condition the vote of one or other member of the college of cardinals, who might be disliked for one reason or another".
    
"There are people who are trying to take advantage of this moment of surprise and disorientation of weak spirits to sow confusion and discredit the Church and its government," Lombardi said. "People who think in terms of money, sex and power and see different realities through this prism cannot see the Church any differently," he said. "The result is a profoundly unjust description of the Church and many of its people," he added. "We want this to be a time of sincere reflection as tradition and the laws of the Church indicate."

JPN/Agencies

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