Vicar of Rome: gays must come out and get out

Responding to an exposé of gay priests in the Vatican by an Italian magazine, the cardinal orders ho

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.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.