The Vatican on Saturday condemned Italian media reports of intrigue, corruption and blackmail among senior prelates, saying these could be a form of pressure to sway voting in next month's conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi dismissed as "gossip, disinformation and sometimes calumny" the reports, which are linked to an investigation by a committee of cardinals last year over a series of damaging leaks of confidential papal documents.
In a statement on Vatican radio's website, Lombardi also referred to the upcoming conclave saying there was "unacceptable pressure to condition the vote of one or other member of the college of cardinals, who might be disliked for one reason or another".
"There are people who are trying to take advantage of this moment of surprise and disorientation of weak spirits to sow confusion and discredit the Church and its government," Lombardi said.
"People who think in terms of money, sex and power and see different realities through this prism cannot see the Church any differently," he said.
"The result is a profoundly unjust description of the Church and many of its people," he added.
"We want this to be a time of sincere reflection as tradition and the laws of the Church indicate."
The pope last year appointed three retired cardinals to conduct an investigation, in parallel with a police inquiry, into a scandal known as "Vatileaks", which led to the conviction and later pardoning of the pope's former butler Paolo Gabriele.
They submitted their secret report for the pope's eyes only, but Italian media have reported they will also share their conclusions with the cardinals who will elect the next pope, ahead of the pontiff's resignation next week.