The Vatican has dismissed Italian media reports that Pope Benedict XVI's resignation is linked to the discovery of a 'gay network' within senior church ranks.
La Repubblica, a daily newspaper in Rome, was the first to publish the story on Thursday.
The paper claimed Benedict's resignation on 17 December was prompted by two red-leather bound volumes, almost 300 pages long complied by three cardinals assigned to look into the 'Vatileaks' affair.
'It was on that day, with those papers on his desk, that Benedict XVI took the decision he had mulled over for so long,' said the centre-left newspaper.
The cardinals were said to have uncovered an underground gay network, whose members organise sexual meetings in several venues in Rome and Vatican City, leaving them prone to blackmail.
It was also reported that the three cardinals were asked by Benedict to verify allegations of financial impropriety, cronyism and corruption exposed in the so-called VatiLeaks affair.
However, the Vatican says the claims are attempts by the media to influence a decision on the pontiff's replacement.
According to The Guardian, the Vatican secretariat of state Tarcisio Bertone said: 'It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the conclave that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions'.