Almost one year to the day since Benedict XVI stepped down as spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the former pope has issued his first public comment on recurring rumors in the Italian media that he didn't resign of his own will.
Such talk is "simply absurd," Benedict writes in a letter posted on the Vatican Insider webpage of Italy's La Stampa newspaper.
"There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry," the former pope adds, according to the website's translation of his letter. "The only condition for the validity of my resignation is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculations regarding its validity are simply absurd."
When Benedict stunned Catholics around the world last February by announcing he would be the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign, he cited his advanced age (85 at that time) and said he was no longer strong enough to carry out his duties.
Still, there was speculation by some in the media that scandals — such as the church's coverup of sexual abuses by some priests and questions about financial management at the Vatican — might have led some cardinals to pressure Benedict into resigning.
At the time, though, other respected Vatican watchers dismissed such talk. As Whispers in the Loggia blogger Rocco Palmo said the day of the pope's announcement: "Benedict's been talking about resigning practically since [since he became pope 7 years ago]. He talked about it openly [and] through symbolic gestures."
Still, this week Italy's Libero newspaper "ran a long story reviving speculation that Benedict may have been forced to resign because of scandals in the Vatican," Reuters writes. If Benedict did not leave willingly, Religion News Service says, that could raise questions about the authority of his successor, Pope Francis.
In his letter, Benedict also dismisses talk that what he wears is a signal that he believe he's still the church's leader.
"I continue to wear the white cassock and kept the name Benedict for purely practical reasons," he writes. "At the moment of my resignation there were no other clothes available. In any case, I wear the white cassock in a visibly different way to how the pope wears it. This is another case of completely unfounded speculations being made."
Meanwhile, as Whispers in the Loggia recounted, Benedict and Pope Francis were together in public on Saturday for the first time since the change in church leadership. Benedict was a guest at the installation of 19 new cardinals.
During the Vatican ceremony, blogger Palmo writes:
"Papa Ratzinger [Benedict] ... made a conspicuous homage to his successor; as Francis approached Benedict on both his entrance and exit from the Altar of the Confession, B16 [Benedict] removed his zucchetto (skullcap), a lower prelate's classic act of homage to the Pope, albeit one which has largely gone by the wayside over recent decades."
Benedict now lives on the Vatican grounds in a former convent.