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Vatican calls reports of conspiracy by Italian media 'completely false'

Since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation the Italian media has speculated there could be more to the story, and has written unflattering stories about the Vatican's administration. On Saturday, the Vatican accused the Italian media of spreading false reports.

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Paolo Gabriele, the pope's butler, was convicted of stealing personal papal documents and leaking them to the media. He was jailed and later pardoned by the pope.

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The documents alleged corruption in the Vatican and infighting over the running of its bank, which has been at the heart of a series of scandals in past decades.

On Friday the Vatican denied Italian media reports that Benedict's decision to send a senior official to a new post in Latin America was linked to the secret report about leaked papal papers.

The Vatican said the transfer to Colombia of Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, an Italian who holds a post roughly equivalent to deputy foreign minister, was a promotion and had been decided weeks ago. Balestrero will be promoted to archbishop and made ambassador in Bogota.

Those reports said Balestrero was being sent away from the Vatican because he figured in the secret report.

On Saturday, as part of his last activities before his resignation in five days, Benedict ended a week-long Lenten spiritual retreat in the Vatican and held a farewell meeting with Italy's president.

On Sunday he will hold his last Sunday blessing. He will hold his last general audience on Wednesday and meet with cardinals on Thursday morning before he resigns on Thursday.

He will first go to the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome and then move to a convent inside the Vatican in April after the building is renovated.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Rosalind Russell

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