The personal secretary of former Pope Benedict XVI has denied the pontiff resigned as a consequence of a “mystical experience” in which God “told me” to step back from the papacy.

The Catholic news agency Zenit published a story earlier this month based on the account of one of the former Pope’s few visitors.

It claimed Benedict said he had decided to resign after a “mystical experience”.

That experience sparked an “absolute desire” to dedicate his life exclusively to prayer, in a solitary relationship with God.

Zenit’s account received wide attention but was met with scepticism by people familiar with Benedict.

But this week, his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, told Italian TV channel Canale 5 the Zenit report was “made up from alpha to omega”.

“There is nothing true in that story,” he added.

While continuing to serve as Benedict’s secretary in his retirement, Gaenswein also works with Pope Francis as Prefect of the Papal Household, charged with overseeing the staff who directly work with the new Pope.

In the Canale 5 interview, Archbishop Gaenswein described his role as that of a “bridge between the pope emeritus and the reigning pope”.

He also assured that the two men have an “excellent” relationship.