For residents of Rome, the sight of courting priests is hardly an anomaly. But a recent exposé is rocking the Catholic Church.
For residents of Rome, the sight of courting priests is hardly an anomaly. The phenomenon is a well-known secret here, and one that was largely ignored until last weekend, when the Italian weekly magazine Panorama published a shocking exposé called “Le Notti Brave Dei Preti Gay,” or “Good Nights Out for Gay Priests.” Investigative journalist Carmelo Abbate spent 20 days undercover posing as the boyfriend of a man who ran in gay clerical circles, secretly videotaping the sexual escapades of three Rome-based priests. Abbate caught the priests on hidden camera dirty dancing at private parties and engaging in sex acts with male escorts on church property. He also caught them emerging from dark bedrooms in time to celebrate mass. In one postcoital scene, “Father Carlo” parades around seminaked, wearing only his clerical vestments. Abbate’s “date” even had sex with one of the priests to corroborate the story. “This is not about homosexuality,” Abbate, who is not gay, told NEWSWEEK. “This is about private vices and public virtues. This is about serious hypocrisy in the Catholic Church.”
The exposé has touched a nerve within the Catholic community in Rome, but Abbate doesn’t believe that it will have any effect, especially given the Vatican’s other sex scandal. Yet unlike the pedophile-priest crisis, which has so far reached scores of dioceses in the United States and Europe, the gay-priest problem is—so far—an issue just for the Rome diocese on the Vatican’s home turf. Most priests in Rome have some affiliation with the Vatican, and Abbate says one of the priests caught on tape also gave mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican says that the offending priests from Abbate’s story will be sought out and stripped of their collars. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, head of the Rome diocese, is in charge of purging the offending clerics, and he has called on all gay priests who cannot respect the basic tenet of celibacy to get out of the priesthood. “Priests who are living a double life have not understood what the Catholic priesthood is and should not have become priests,” he said in a statement responding to the Panorama expose. “Consistency demands that they be discovered. We do not wish them ill, but we cannot accept that because of their behavior the honor of all the other priests is dragged through the mud.”
Vallini may have the right idea when it comes to punishing those who break priestly laws, but the church as a whole seems to find it difficult to differentiate its sex scandals—and to determine what role celibacy plays in either situation. In April, Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone famously blamed gay priests for the pedophilia problem during a press conference in Santiago, Chile. “Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relationship between celibacy and pedophilia,” he said. “But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem.”