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 web editor of the New Statesman.

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.