Pope Francis has apparently claimed that a "gay lobby" was at work at the Vatican in private remarks to the leaders of a key Latin American church group.
The Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious - the regional organisation for priests and nuns of religious orders - confirmed its leaders had written a report of the pope's remarks after their audience last Thursday.
The group, known by its Spanish acronym CLAR, said it was greatly distressed that the document had been published and apologised to the pope.
In the document, Pope Francis is quoted as saying that while there were many holy people in the Vatican, there was also corruption: "The 'gay lobby' is mentioned, and it is true, it is there ... We need to see what we can do ..." the report reads.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, said the audience was private and that as a result he had nothing to say.
In the days leading up to Pope Benedict XVI's February 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 issue 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 were laid out in a 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".
Pope Francis' remarks on the matter, as reported by the CLAR leadership, were published in Spanish on the Chilean-based website "Reflection and Liberation" and picked up and translated by the blog Rorate Caeli, which is read in Vatican circles.
In the report, the pope 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.