In private remarks to the leadership of a key Latin American church group, Pope Francis lamented that a “gay lobby” was at work at the Vatican.

It was an apparent reference to allegations in the Italian media that blackmail was taking place within the Vatican against high-ranking prelates who are gay.

The Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious — the regional organization for priests and nuns of religious orders — confirmed Tuesday that its leaders had written a synthesis of Francis’s remarks after their June 6 audience. The group, known by its Spanish acronym CLAR, said it was greatly distressed that the document had been published and apologized to the pope.

In the document, Francis is quoted as saying that while there are many holy people in the Vatican, there is also a current of corruption. “The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there . . . We need to see what we can do,” the synthesis reads.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Tuesday the audience was private and that as a result he had nothing to say.

In the days leading up to Pope Benedict XVI’s Feb. 28 resignation, Italian media published reports of a “gay lobby” influencing papal decision-making and Vatican policy through blackmail, as well as suggestions that the scandal had led in part to Benedict’s decision to resign.

The unsourced reports, in the Rome daily La Repubblica and the news magazine Panorama, said details of the scandal were laid out in the secret dossier prepared for Benedict by three trusted cardinals who investigated the leaks of papal documents last year. Benedict left the dossier for Francis.

At the time, the Vatican denounced the reporting as defamatory, “unverified, unverifiable or completely false.”

The initial reporting has never been precise on what exactly was meant by a “gay lobby,” but Repubblica and Panorama went beyond saying there was merely a homosexual subculture at the Vatican. Rather, they raised allegations that high-ranking prelates were being blackmailed because they were gay.

Francis’s remarks on the matter, as reported by the CLAR leadership, were published Tuesday in Spanish on the progressive Chilean-based Web site Reflection and Liberation and picked up and translated by the blog Rorate Caeli, which is read in Vatican circles.

— Associated Press