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Rome's Gay Priest Scandal Makes Everyone Look Bad

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An Italian magazine that went undercover to report on the sexual hijinks of three gay priests in Rome is causing a major headache for Pope Benedict XVI at a time when his record on dealing with the sexual abuse of children by clerics was already an intractable crisis for the Catholic Church.

But in this case there is actually enough blame to go around so that nobody should be pointing fingers.

First off, there are the journalistic ethics of the tabloid news magazine, Panorama, which published its expose' on Friday. Panorama is owned by Italian prime minister and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, who has had more than a few ethical and personal troubles of his own.

But more than Berlusconi, the problems center on the Panorama reporter, Carmelo Abbate, who conducted the three-week "investigation" by using hidden cameras as he followed three priests -- two Italians and a Frenchman -- to gay clubs and as they had sex with other men, including an accomplice of Abbate, a gay man who was brought along apparently to help the journalist's credibility.

The weekly magazine's editor, Giorgio Mule, insists that the investigation "was not aimed at creating a scandal but showing that a certain section of the clergy behaves very differently."

Yet the magazine also calls the behavior of the three priests "deeply disturbing," and most would surely agree -- and will be tempted to buy the issue, as Mule must have expected. (He did not explain how the cover shot of a priest's hands clutching a rosary and his fingernails painted a bright lavender was not aimed at creating scandal -- or selling copies.)

Secretly filming priests -- or anyone -- in their private lives, and especially while having sex with a "honey pot" apparently brought along for the purposes of entrapment, is so far beyond the pale of journalistic standards that it makes Andrew Breitbart look like Walter Cronkite.

Panorama offered a fig leaf by saying that it would not reveal the priests' names or any other details about them, but that may not be protection enough for the men.

In fact, the Diocese of Rome, which is headed by the Bishop of Rome, a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI, is undertaking an investigation to uncover the identity of the clerics and says it will "rigorously prosecute" anyone else who has engaged in conduct "unworthy of priestly life," which pretty much means gay priests.

Indeed, the response by church officials in Rome is another disturbing element of the sordid tale, though it is hardly a surprise given the Vatican's ham-handed media strategy during the past months of new sexual abuse revelations -- reactions that have more often than not worsened the scandal and the image of the church and the pope.

After the Panorama expose' was published, officials of the Vicariate of Rome (churchmen who oversee operations of the diocese for the pope, who is usually busy tending his global flock) issued a statement calling on priests like those cited in the magazine article to come out of the closet and leave the priesthood.

Priests who are living "a double life," said a statement from the Vicar of Rome, "have not understood what the Catholic priesthood is and should not have become priests" in the first place.

"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."

Under Pope Benedict, the Vatican has taken strong measures to try to weed out gay men from the priesthood, whether they are sexually active or not. Part of this is in response to the sexual abuse scandal, which many in the Vatican -- and the rest of the hierarchy -- believe is due to the behavior of homosexual priests.

There is little statistical or scientific basis for that conclusion, and it also overlooks two other facts: One, that mismanagement and cover-ups by bishops were the root cause of the scandal of the sexual abuse of children by clerics, and two, that there are many gay priests and bishops -- not a few in the Vatican itself -- who have served with great distinction and as faithful celibates.

Moreover, it is telling that church officials reacted with such vehemence to the Panorama report and not to other similar stories.

In May, for example, dozens of Italian women who have had longstanding relationships with priests sent Benedict a letter asking him to abolish mandatory celibacy so that they could live openly and faithfully with their paramours. The story made a splash in Europe, but the Vatican largely ignored it. Rome has also done little about the many priests, particularly in the developing world or rural areas, who often live as man and wife with a lover, or worse, those Casanova clerics -- a minority, to be sure -- who have regular flings with various women.

On the other hand, the trio of priests targeted by the magazine have only themselves to blame, and while they are certainly not the only clerics -- straight, gay or otherwise -- to engage in hypocritical hedonism, their behavior has certainly cast another unjustified shadow across the reputation of all priests.

Above all, however, their actions have effectively launched a witch hunt that could result in problems for the many fine gay priests who are serving humbly and chastely -- and perforce in the closet -- and not dancing half-naked in clubs and donning their cassocks to have sex with virtual strangers.

"Gay priests giving gay priests a bad name," as Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic, aptly titled his column on the episode.

"The problem is that only these gay priests are the news, not all the other gay priests who labor faithfully, honoring their commitments along with their straight brothers as best they can," Cones writes. "We don't hear their stories because they can't tell them for fear of expulsion. And that isn't right."

"On this matter, the church's real problem is the closet," he concludes. "I must agree with the Vicar of Rome that it would be helpful if gay priests would come out -- so we could thank them for their faithful service, especially as they have been unjustly tarred with 'causing' sex abuse. Unfortunately, our church leadership at this time is not creating the kind of open and safe space that would allow for such honesty."

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I believe that the Catholic Church should change its rules regarding the adherence to celibacy. That is where the problem stems. It goes against our very own human nature. Lift that ridiculous rule and you might see some happier, healthier, clergymen. There are very, very few of us who can commit to a life completely dedicated to Christ like the Apostle Paul. He seems to have written the most on this topic -- single vs. marriage (and therefore, sexual relations). If the adherence to a man-made rule that runs counter to human nature were lifted, then a vow to celibacy would have greater honor and those who choose to have relations would be honored too. I don't know that it says anywhere in the Bible that a pastor cannot marry. That's a Catholic Rule, not a biblical one. Having said this, however, there is absolutely no excuse for abuse and practicing ways that counter what a religion preaches. Practice what you preach, and if you cannot, then get out. It's no different from performing a job in any other line of work. If you do not follow company policy, then you are likely to get fired. If a priest is required to commit to celibacy as a condition of his employment with a Church and he does not obey that, then let him go. If he is required to teach a doctrine that admonishes homosexuality, and then practices it himself, then let him go. This might go a long way to weed out priests that bring embarrassment to the Church. Change the rules or get tough. That's what I say.

August 03 2010 at 8:12 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Read the John Jay Report issued in 2004 if you need proof that the Church sez abuse scandal is a gay sex scandal.

Of all the cases of sex abuse reported between 1950 and 2002, 10% of the cases were with pre-pubscent boys or pedophilia, 80% to 90% of the abuse cases were with adolescent males. When an older male is having sexual relations with an adolescent or teenage male, that is homosexual, gay sex. There's no other way to describe it. These individuals are perverting themselves on innocent young men and they should be removed from the priesthood. The Church is not going after the gay priest who is chaste and obedient to his vows, but you can't ignore the facts. There is a proclivity of some gay men to prey upon younger males and there is no room in the Church for those individuals.

August 01 2010 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sex is a human instinct. When the Vatican begins to understand that issue, they will be able to re-think their views of celibacy and poverity in the face of a sexually active male and his subsequent family - the reason Man was put on earth) and will go a long way in rehabilitating their image. A lot of their man-made rules about celibacy and poverty do not reflect human nature. And the vows they make priests say are man-made, not God-made. Remember Adam and Eve?

July 30 2010 at 2:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Interesting that so many folks are willing to say "all clergy" or "all Christians" are evil or guilty or whatever. Next time you want to say something like that take it out "all priests" and insert "all (ethnic group of choice)" Is it appropriate to say then? I didn't think so... Are there people out there who identify with a particular religion that behave poorl? You bet. But making it a stereotype is no more accurate than any other stereotype. Think a little. Thanks.

July 29 2010 at 4:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I disagree with your title; I am not made to look bad at all. I have nothing to do with priests, gay or not, Italy, Italian politics, the Vatican or its faith teachings. In fact, I am kinda of tired of hearing about its troubles and would really rather wait. To hear it had solved them before its next round of scandals. There are other churches out there if reporters cared to look. Otherwise, it was an interesting article I read, because you included the word “everyone.”

July 29 2010 at 3:47 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I am not sure God would run his church this way. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.

July 29 2010 at 2:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Actually, Ken, we Catholics *do* teach that those who have faith will be saved with no other prerequisite, and that salvation is eternal. However, we believe (with St. James) that "faith without works is dead" and that good works are the outward sign of good faith (not in the sense of, "do good works to prove your faith" but in the sense of "if you truly have faith, it is impossible *not* to show it in your works"). His great condemnation in the parable of sheep and goats was not, "You failed to call me Lord," but "When I was hungry, you did not give me food (etc.)" and when they protested that they had never rejected Him in His need, He told them, "Whenever you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to Me." They are damned not because feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. are prerequisites for salvation, but because anyone who truly loves the Lord would care for His people, so their failure to do good works was *evidence* of their lack of faith, but that lack of faith was still ultimately what damned them.

Also, we avoid believing that we *are* saved, and rather continue to *hope* to be saved - not because we don't trust Christ's promise that we need only have faith and we will be saved, but because it is not for us to decide whether our faith is true. "Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will be saved." It is easy to *say* "I accept you, Jesus, as my Lord and Savior," but He did not command us merely to *say* we believe in Him, but rather, to truly believe, and to "Keep My commandments". Who are we to say, "My faith is sufficient, and has saved me, because I have declared myself born again, or have been baptized into Church X, Y, or Z"? To say so implies (though, I'm sure unintentionally) that "salvation" is just some magic formula that we can recite and force God to accept us.

Rather, we *hope* that God will find our faith pleasing in His sight, and thereby save us by His grace, but the ultimate decision of whether we have truly been faithful, or have merely deemed ourselves faithful belongs to Him alone. We bear in mind the story of Samuel and the sons of Jesse, and the parable of the obedient and disobedient sons - the sons who *seemed* most worthy were rejected, while the one who *seemed* unworthy was chosen. Who is the more pleasing in the sight of God? The one who says, "Yes, Father, right away," then fails to do as he is told, or the one who says, "No, Father, I will not," but then does his father's will anyway? The Gospel tells us the answer...

July 28 2010 at 12:29 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

For years, not only the Catholics but Wesleyans and others have insisted that teaching salvation by faith alone together with eternal security encourages folks to "live like the devil" because they don't worry about consequences of sin. Their formula for "holy behaviour" of never being certain you're saved by Christ and always believing your "good works" or "bad works" play a part in the final judgment certainly doesn't seem to work well here. Get back to the Bible. Please!

July 27 2010 at 10:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
You big Baboo!

It seems to me that many of us Christians have an easier time being judgmental than in being spiritual. We seem to have lost the fundamental principle that as people of God, we are not expected to be perfect. The notion that "if you're not perfect, you have no right to my respect" is modern, and truly one of the most perilous to the future of Christianity.
Humans are not perfect, never will be, but as Christians we strive to follow the teachings of One Who was.
To blame God for human failings is easy to do but absurd. Would we throw off learning a subject because one has some bad teachers?
Christianity for some of us is the subject of ultimate Freedom, despite what has historically sometimes been done in its name. We believe that Christ conquered Death, the only inevitability most people fear.
To fear and hate are related in the human psyche. Bad behavior ought rightly to be punished, but it's not sensible to throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater.

July 27 2010 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Pope Clement VII saw nothing wrong with three to five thousand boys being castrated per year. Sometimes your history tells it all.

July 26 2010 at 3:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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