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Allegations of corruption at the Vatican
02:57 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Vatican awash in scandal amid preparations for Pope Benedict XVI's retirement

On Sunday, a British newspaper reported four men accused O'Brien of abuse

Italian publications report allegations of priest blackmail by male prostitutes

Benedict retires Thursday, the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years

Scandal is threatening to eclipse the poignancy and pageantry of Benedict XVI’s historic final days as pope.

Vatican officials were already trying Monday to swat down unsavory claims by Italian publications of a brewing episode involving gay priests, male prostitutes and blackmail when news broke that Benedict had moved up the resignation of a Scottish archbishop linked over the weekend by a British newspaper to inappropriate relationships with priests.

Benedict announced two weeks ago that he will step down as pope Thursday, becoming the first pontiff to leave the job alive in 598 years.

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At 85, he said he was too old, frail and tired to continue on as spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church and its 1.2 billion followers worldwide.

It was a stunningly unexpected announcement that left church scholars poring over Catholic law to answer such basic questions as when the pope’s successor would be chosen and even what he would be called in retirement.