“God told me to do it,” the 86-year-old former pontiff told a friend, six months after his decision to step down shocked the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
God had implanted in his heart the “absolute desire” to resign and to devote himself to a life of prayer and reflection, Benedict told the anonymous confidante, according to Zenit, a Rome-based Catholic news agency.
“It was not because of any type of apparition or phenomenon of that sort,” he said, but instead the result of a “mystical experience” received during “a direct rapport with the Lord”.
He said the more he sees the “charisma” of Pope Francis, his successor, the more he is convinced that it was “the will of God” that he became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
Francis, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, has won huge popularity with his down-to-earth and direct style, renouncing many of the trappings of office, visiting a favela slum during his week-long trip to Brazil last month and calling for a “poor Church”.
The conversation between Benedict and the confidante took place in Mater Ecclesiae, the former convent within the walls of the Vatican that has been converted into a retirement home for the German former pope.
Vatican sources confirmed the veracity of the report but declined to reveal the identity of the person that Benedict spoke to.
“The report is reliable, without a doubt, although bthis is not an official Vatican statement or position,” an insider told The Daily Telegraph.
Benedict surprised the world, including cardinals and close aides within the Vatican, when he unexpectedly announced his intention to resign on Feb 11.
He made the announcement during a gathering of cardinals in the Vatican, choosing to deliver the bombshell in Latin.
Many of the cardinals did not immediately understand what he had said, but the news was picked up by a sharp-eared correspondent from Ansa, the Italian news agency, who happened to be well versed in Latin and landed herself a worldwide scoop.
Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, left the Vatican for the last time as Pope just over two weeks later, flying off in a white helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, a hilltop castle outside Rome used as a papal retreat during the hot summer months.
Pope Francis was elected as the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years, and the first from the Americas, during a secret conclave of 115 cardinals in March.
Benedict returned to live in the Vatican in May, saying that he would remain “hidden from the world”, devoting the rest of his life to prayer and theological study.
His remarks will do little to dampen speculation about the more worldly reasons for his departure.
Although old and frail, he does not appear to be suffering from any specific illness, prompting speculation about his true motives.
His papacy, which began in 2005, was mired in controversy, including scandals over paedophile priests in Catholic dioceses around the world, allegations of money laundering by the Vatican bank, and intrigue within the Curia, the powerful but secretive Vatican administration.
It has been claimed that he was deeply hurt by the betrayal of his butler, Paolo Gabriele, who stole confidential Vatican documents and handed them to an Italian investigative journalist who published them in a bestselling book.