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Benedict says reports he was forced out are 'absurd'

Italian daily said resignation invalid due to pressure

26 February, 17:57
Benedict says reports he was forced out are 'absurd' (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 26 - Benedict XVI has dismissed press speculation he was forced to resign as pope last year as "absurd" in a letter published Wednesday in Turin-based daily La Stampa.

The 86-year-old German cited a lack of mental and physical strength due to old age when he announced he was to become the first pontiff to step down in over 600 years on February 11, 2013.

He left the office on February 28, 2013 and Pope Francis was elected his successor two weeks later.

Last week an article in conservative daily Libero claimed that Benedict was pressured to quit by a group of cardinals opposed to him.

It also claimed that this made the resignation invalid and that Benedict considered himself still to be pope, which is why he continued to wear the papal white and kept his name as pontiff. "There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry," Benedict XVI wrote, calling the speculation "simply absurd".

"The only condition for the validity of my resignation is the complete freedom of my decision," he said, in a rare break of the public silence he said he would keep upon his retirement, the anniversary of which is on Friday.

He explained that he continued to wear a white cassock for "purely practical reasons," as at the moment of his resignation there were no other clothes available.

There had previously been speculation that Benedict quit because of scandals at the Vatican, including irregularities in Church finances and the so-called Vatileaks incident regarding the leaking of confidential Church documents to the media.

The leaked documents included letters by the former secretary general of the Governorate, Carlo Maria Vigano', reporting on alleged corruption that may have cost the Vatican millions of euros in inflated procurement contracts.

Benedict has remained largely hidden for the last year, but a surprise appearance at a ceremony last weekend to install 19 new cardinals has led some to believe he may be gradually brought back into the life of the Church. It was the first time he and Pope Francis had appeared together at a liturgical ceremony open to the general public.

The low profile Benedict has kept up to now may have been dictated by an initial desire to avoid confusion about who is leading the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, given that the situation of having two popes living at the Vatican at the same time is unprecedented.

But Francis has taken such a firm grip on the Church - embarking on reforms to improve financial transparency, taking action on the issue of priest sex abuse and winning plaudits with his humble non-judgemental style and focus on the poorest - that the need to keep Benedict out of sight may have evaporated.