Just as the Catholic Church struggles to rehabilitate its image after the worldwide abuse scandal, another embarrassing story has been uncovered by an Italian magazine.
Panorama, a weekly news magazine owned by Silvio Berlusconi, conducted an investigation into what it has termed the "amazing double life" of Vatican priests who are regulars on Rome's gay scene. The journalist Carmelo Abbate followed three priests in particular, two Italian and one French, and was able to obtain undercover film footage of the men dancing with escorts in gay clubs and having sex with other men. One of the three was then filmed conducting Mass the morning after. "Carlo", Abbate's Vatican source, even claimed that 98 per cent of priests of his acquaintance were gay.
The revelations have hit the headlines around the world, but since then the Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, has issued a statement condemning the investigation for "defaming priests" and telling homosexual clergymen to come out and leave the Church. He said:
No one is forcing them to stay priests, only getting the benefits. Coherence demands they should come out into the open. They never should have become priests.
It is not the first gay sex scandal to hit the Vatican this year. In March, a male chorister was sacked for allegedly procuring male prositutes for a senior member of the Pope's household.
The latest scandal is a particular blow to Pope Benedict's regime, given that one of his first acts following his enthronement was to ban all gay men from entering Catholic seminaries and training for the priesthood, even if celibate. The move was a clear departure from the previous policy of condemning homosexual acts rather than the sexuality itself, although the ruling applied only to new applicants, rather than those already ordained.