Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi criticises rumours surrounding Pope's resignation

Comments come days after report in Italian newspaper that claims a 'gay network' within the Vatican influenced pontiff's departure

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The Independent Online

The Vatican's chief spokesman has hit back at rumours surrounding the Pope's resignation.

Writing in an editorial on Vatican Radio's website, Father Federico Lombardi, claimed there were people using "gossip, misinformation and sometimes slander" to discredit the church following the announcement last week that Pope Benedict XCVI would be stepping down.

He said that those speculating on the reasons behind the pontiff's departure "present themselves as moral judges, making heavy moral judgments" but "do not, in truth, have any authority to do so".

Although not addressing it specifically, Father Lombardi's editorial comes two days after a report in Italian newspaper La Repubblica that claimed the Pope's decision to resign was influenced by a gay 'network inside the Vatican, some of whom were being blackmailed by outsiders.

The paper claimed the alleged network was described in a report presented by to the Pope by cardinals assigned to investigate the 2012 so-called 'Vatileaks' scandal.

The newspaper claimed the Pope made the decision to resign on or around the 17th December, which was the day he is alleged to have received the 'Vatileaks' dossier from the three cardinals.

The dossier, which was commissioned by Benedict himself, was compiled by the cardinals after the 'Vatileaks' affair, when the Pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with stealing and leaking papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a hotbed of intrigue and infighting.

The dossier was compiled by a three man commission, a Spanish cardinal, Julián Herranz; Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, a former archbishop of Palermo; and the Slovak cardinal Jozef Tomko.

La Repubblica claimed that the cardinals described a number of 'factions' in their report, including one in which individuals were "united by sexual orientation".

The newspaper also alleged the dossier states that members of this group were blackmailed by laymen with whom they entertain relationships of a "worldly nature". Quoting an unnamed source the paper said "Everything revolves around the non-observance of the sixth and seventh commandments."

The seventh commandment forbids theft, while the sixth forbids adultery - but it is also linked in Catholic doctrine to the proscribing of homosexual acts.

The newspaper claimed the dossier identifies a series of meeting places in and around Rome.

While Father Lombardi refused to comment at the time, he writes in his editorial today: "Those who consider money, sex and power before all else and are used to reading diverse realities from these perspectives, are unable to see anything else, even in the Church."