The Vatican is refusing to confirm or deny claims of a network of gay prelates operating at its heart, some of whom allegedly were being blackmailed.

Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica published an article on Thursday claiming that Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign was in part finalised by a Vatican report showing that the Holy See was affected by outside influences, including a “gay lobby”.

La Repubblica said Pope Benedict had taken the decision on 17 December to resign – the day he received the report compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called “Vatileaks” affair.

It’s claimed the Pope commissioned the report in the wake of the arrest and subsequent conviction of his butler, Paolo Gabriele, found guilty of having stolen confidential documents from the papal apartment.

According to La Repubblica, the report is said to say that there was widespread breaking of commandments within the Holy See, in particular the seventh commandment, “thou shalt not steal”, and the sixth, “thou shalt not commit adultery”.

A source close to Vatican cardinals was quoted as saying: “Everything revolves around the non-observance of the sixth and seventh commandments.”

La Repubblica said the cardinals’ report identified a series of meeting places in and around Rome used by gay prelates. They included a villa outside the Italian capital, a sauna in a Rome suburb, a beauty parlour in the centre, and a former university residence that was in use by a provincial Italian archbishop.

According to La Repubblica, the documents, which consist of two volumes containing over 300 pages – have been deposited into a safe and will be transferred to the Pope’s successor after he is chosen.

On Friday, Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said: “Neither the cardinals’ commission nor I will make comments to confirm or deny the things that are said about this matter. Let each one assume his or her own responsibilities. We shall not be following up on the observations that are made about this.”

Pope Benedict XVI offically steps down on Thursday 28 Febuary.