VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict on Wednesday angrily denounced what he called false media coverage of a leaks scandal shaking the Vatican and expressed full trust in close aides under fire over the worst crisis in his papacy.

In unusually blunt remarks at the end of a general audience in St Peter's Square where he repeatedly referred to personal suffering, the 85-year-old pontiff said recent events had caused sadness in his heart.

"Suggestions have multiplied, amplified by some media which are totally gratuitous and which have gone well beyond the facts, offering an image of the Holy See which does not correspond to reality," Benedict said of a scandal that has seen his butler arrested for stealing secret documents.

Referring to senior Vatican aides, who Italian media accuse of waging a war of leaks as part of an internal power struggle, Benedict added:

"I would like to renew my trust and my encouragement to my closest collaborators and all those who every day, with faith, a spirit of sacrifice and in silence help me to perform my ministry."

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