Vatican officials have moved to deny reports that a cleric hand-picked by Pope Francis to reform the troubled Vatican bank is protected by a “gay lobby”.

The allegations have been made by Italian journalist Sandro Magister for the magazine L’Espresso.

It’s claimed Monsignor Battista Ricca provided accommodation and a job for a male companion while he was assigned as a Vatican diplomat in Uruguay between 1999 and 2001.

According to Mr Magister, when Monsignor Ricca arrived he arranged for a male friend and captain in the Swiss army to live with him in the embassy, it is said that the “intimacy” of their relationship created a scandal.

Mr Magister also claims Monsignor Ricca brought a “young man” back to the embassy and ended up getting trapped in an elevator with him overnight.

He states that although the incidents were well known, they were deliberately omitted from Monsignor Ricca’s Vatican file, so that Pope Francis learned of the allegations only after appointing the cleric to his position at the Vatican bank last month.

Mr Magister suggests this was done under the basis of their being a “gay lobby” to protect Monsignor Ricca.

In response, a Vatican spokesman dismissed the allegations as “not credible”.

Last month, a Latin American Catholic Church group apologised for the “confusion” caused by the publication of members’ accounts of a meeting with Pope Francis where he was quoted as referring to a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican’s secretive administration, the Curia.

The Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious (CLAR) stressed the Pope’s comments had not been recorded but were what CLAR members remembered of his answers to their questions.

Pope Francis was asked about the panel of cardinals he has set up to help him reform the Curia, the Catholic Church’s central administrative body.

He was quoted as replying: “…it is difficult. In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people. But there also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true… The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there… We need to see what we can do…”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico declined to comment on the meeting, stressing its content was private.