Pope Benedict XVI places a note in the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem
Pope Benedict XVI places a note in the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 12, 2009. Photo by Reuters
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Former Pope Benedict, in one of the few times he has broken his silence since stepping down nearly a year ago, has branded as "absurd" fresh media speculation that he was forced to quit.

Church law says a pope's resignation is valid only if he takes the decision in full freedom and without pressure from others.

"There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry," Benedict, 86, who now has the title "pope emeritus," said in a letter to the Italian website Vatican Insider, published today.

Speculation regarding the validity of his resignation "is simply absurd," he wrote.

Benedict announced his decision to resign on February 11, 2013 and formally stepped down on February 28, becoming the first pope in 600 years to do so. Two weeks later, Francis –born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires - was elected, becoming the first non-European pope in 1,300 years.

Benedict said at the time that he was stepping down because he no longer had the physical and spiritual strength to run the 1.2 billion member Church and that his decision had been taken in full freedom.

Scandals in the Vatican

Earlier this month the Italian newspaper Libero ran a story reviving speculation that Benedict may have been forced to resign because of scandals in the Vatican.
In 2012, Benedict's butler was arrested for leaking sensitive documents alleging corruption among Vatican prelates and irregularities in Vatican finances.

Libero also suggested that Benedict chose to continue to wear white because he still felt like he was a pope.

Benedict, who lives in near-total isolation inside a former convent on the Vatican grounds, was also asked about this and responded: "I continue to wear a white cassock and kept the name Benedict for purely practical reasons. At the moment of my resignation there were no other cloths available. In any case, I wear the white cassock in a visibly different way to how the Pope (Francis) wears it. This is another case of completely unfounded speculation."

In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, Benedict's personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, said the former pope saw his main function now as helping the Church and his successor through prayer.

Benedict has only responded to a few letters in the past year and has appeared in public only a handful of times. The latest was last Saturday when he attended a ceremony in St Peter's Basilica when Pope Francis created new cardinals.