A flood of rumors are spreading as to the real reason for Pope Benedict XVI’s abrupt decision to resign at the end of the month.

The first pontiff to retire in six centuries, the 85-year-old Benedict cited his advanced age and a strength which deteriorated “in the last few months” as the reasons for stepping down.

Speculations about the Pope’s health began to swirl almost immediately, with the Italian daily Sole 24 Ore revealing that Benedict had heart surgery to replace his pacemaker three months ago at Rome’s Pio XI clinic. The procedure was carried “in the utmost secrecy,” the daily wrote.

The information was confirmed by the Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who remarked that the heart surgery was “a routine replacement” and the Pope’s resignation is not related to any “specific disease.”

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Last year, the Italian gossip website Dagospia wrote that Benedict was suffering from leukemia, and would have stepped down “by summer 2013,” having found a likely successor in the French cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran.

But the Pope may have had other motivations rather than a declining health and an advanced age, according to most media reports.

Many foreign outlets point to the sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church which dominated Benedict’s nearly eight years of papacy as one of the reasons.

“The messages he sought to convey were all but drowned out, first by a string of controversies that were largely of his own making, and subsequently by the outcry – particularly in Europe – over sexual abuse of young people by Catholic clerics,” the Guardian wrote.

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Interestingly, the majority of the Italian media almost ignored the sex abuse scandals pointing to a growing Vatican crisis, made unbearable by rumors of allegedly illicit dealings of the Vatican IOR bank, bitter rivalries between groups of cardinals and an unprecedented campaign of leaked documents.

Like a Dan Brown-style thriller, the leaks revealed a poisonous power struggle taking place behind the Vatican’s closed doors

The fight would be between cardinals open to a renovation of the Church and the conservative wing, whom Benedict belonged when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The theological conservatives are led by the powerful Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Angelo Bagnasco, the Archbishop of Genoa and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference.

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The power struggle also involved the former Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and his successor Bertone. According to the leaks, Sodano was trying to sideline Bertone in favour of one of his proteges.

Resigning would have been the only move for Benedict to “reset” everything, and give the Roman Catholic Church the possibility of a new start, according to the Italian daily La Repubblica.

“It has been an act of rupture. By stepping down, Benedict XVI has put to an end Bertone’s ‘government’ and the power struggle which has been poisoning the Vatican,” La Repubblica wrote.

A day before resigning Benedict tweeted: “We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.”

Image: Bitter rivalries between groups of cardinals might be one of the reasons for Benedict XVI’s resignation. Credit: Lothar Wolleh/Wikimedia Commons.