(Tourists and pilgrims line up in the rain in Saint Peter’s Square to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican February 23, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)

The Vatican on Saturday accused the Italian media of spreading “false and damaging” reports in what it condemned as a deplorable attempt to influence cardinals who will meet in a secret conclave next month to elect a new pope.

Since Pope Benedict announced his resignation on Feb. 11, Italian newspapers have been full of rumours about conspiracies, secret reports and lobbies in the Vatican that they say pushed the pope to abdicate.

“It is deplorable that, as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the conclave … that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions,” a Vatican statement said.

The Italian reports have painted an unflattering picture of the Vatican’s central administration, known as the Curia, depicting it as being full of prelates more concerned with their careers than serving the Church or the pope.