In private remarks to the leadership of a key Latin American church group, Pope Francis lamented that a "gay lobby" was at work at the Vatican.
It was an apparent reference to allegations in the Italian media that blackmail was taking place within the Vatican against high-ranking prelates who are gay.
The Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious -- the regional organization for priests and nuns of religious orders -- confirmed Tuesday that its leaders had written a synthesis of Francis' remarks after their June 6 audience. The group, known by its Spanish acronym CLAR, said it was greatly distressed that the document had been published and apologized to the pope.
In the document, Francis is quoted as saying that while there were many holy people in the Vatican, there was also a current of corruption. "The `gay lobby' is mentioned, and it is true, it is there ... We need to see what we can do ..." the synthesis reads.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Tuesday the audience was private and that as a result he had nothing to say.
In the days leading up to Pope Benedict XVI's Feb. 28 resignation, Italian media were rife with reports of a "gay lobby" influencing papal decision-making and Vatican policy through blackmail, and suggestions that the scandal had led in part to Benedict's decision to resign.
The unsourced reports, in the Rome daily La Repubblica and the news magazine Panorama, said details of the scandal were laid out in the secret dossier prepared for Benedict by three trusted cardinals who investigated the leaks of papal documents last year. Benedict left the dossier for Francis.
At the time, the Vatican denounced the reporting as defamatory, "unverified, unverifiable or completely false."
The initial reporting has never been precise on what exactly was meant by a "gay lobby," but Repubblica and Panorama went beyond saying there was merely a homosexual subculture at the Vatican. Rather, they raised allegations that high-ranking prelates were being blackmailed because they were gay.
On Wednesday, Italian gay rights groups denounced the reporting of the entire affair as insensitive and homophobic.
"That priests have sex with other men doesn't authorize anyone to speak about a gay lobby, because we're not talking about a group that represents the interests of the homosexual community but rather a group that is an integral part of a power structure -- the Vatican -- which is violently homophobic," said Franco Grillini, president of Gaynet rights group.
Francis' remarks on the matter, as reported by the CLAR leadership, were published Tuesday in Spanish on the progressive Chilean-based website "Reflection and Liberation" and picked up and translated by the blog Rorate Caeli, which is read in Vatican circles.
In the synthesis, Francis was quoted as being remarkably forthcoming about his administrative shortcomings, saying he was relying on the group of eight cardinals he appointed to lead a reform of the Vatican bureaucracy.
The document quoted him as saying: "I am very disorganized, I have never been good at this. But the cardinals of the commission will move it forward."
In its statement, CLAR said no recording had been made of Francis' remarks but that the members of its leadership team -- a half-dozen men and women -- together wrote a synthesis of the points he had made for their own personal use.
"It's clear that based on this one cannot attribute with certainty to the Holy Father singular expressions in the text, but just the general sense," the statement said.