'Vatileaks' investigators to meet with resigning Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

Investigators into theso-called "Vatileaks" scandal were to meet with Pope Benedict XVI, two months after submitting their secret report into the leaks of papal documents to a journalist.

The three retired cardinals, Julian Herranz of Spain,Slovakian Jozef Tomko and Italian Salvatore De Giorgi, were set to see the pope at 11:00 am today, according to the Vatican's daily programme.

The meeting comes just three days before Benedict steps down following his shock resignation announcement on January 11. The 85-year-old German pope cited his age as the main factor in his nearly unprecedented decision, but observers said Vatileaks may have been the last straw in a scandal-ridden papacy.

The run-up to next month's conclave to elect a successor to Benedict has seen new scandals and allegations emerge, including claims of "inappropriate behaviour" on the part of one of the cardinal electors, Keith O'Brien of Britain.

Already four other members of the conclave are associated with the paedophile priest scandals that have dominated Benedict's eight years on the papal throne.The Vatican's Secretariat of State -- the government of the Catholic Church -- took the unusual step on Saturday ofissuing a statement slamming "completely false news stories" as an attempt to influence the secret conclave.

Italy's Panorama news weekly and the Repubblica daily had said on Thursday that the cardinals' report to the pope contained allegations of corruption and of blackmail attempts against gay Vatican clergy, as well as favouritism based on gay relationships.

The report was meant to be strictly for the pope's eyesonly, but Italian media have said the cardinals will alsoshare their conclusions with other cardinals before the pope'sdeparture on Thursday.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi on Saturday dismissed the media reports as "gossip, disinformation and sometimes calumny". In a statement on Vatican Radio's website, Lombardi said: "There are people who are trying to take advantage of this moment of surprise and disorientation of weak souls to sow confusion and discredit the Church and its government." The three cardinals -- all over 80 and thus not entitled to vote in the conclave -- questioned dozens of Vatican officials, both laypeople and clergy, in parallel with a police probe.

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