The Vatican was last night at the centre of an unusually public sexscandal after acknowledging it had suspended a senior official who wasfilmed apparently propositioning a young man in his office.
MonsignorTommaso Stenico, a capo ufficio, or section head, at the Vaticanministry responsible for the clergy, insisted yesterday he was not gay.He said he had posed as a homosexual to research a plot by satanists.
Theaffair is the latest of several indications that the traditionalimmunity enjoyed by the Catholic church in Italy over sex scandals isgradually giving way.
The Pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said on Saturday he wasunable to deny rumours that the Vatican had suspended one of its topbureaucrats following a report shown on Italian television. A few hourslater a website identified the official as Mgr Stenico, a 60-year-oldofficial who ranks joint third in the hierarchy of his department,known as the Congregation for the Clergy.
Aprogramme broadcast on October 1 by La7 - the only national channel notowned by Silvio Berlusconi or the state - included a sequence it saidhad been filmed secretly in a Vatican office. The six-minute sequencewas said to have been captured by a young man who had come into contactwith a Vatican official via an internet chatroom.
He was invitedto have sado-masochistic sex and arrangements were made for a meetingin St Peter's Square. Unknown to the older man, the other man, who saidhe wanted to expose the hypocrisy of the Catholic church, arrivedequipped with concealed video and audio recording equipment.
Television viewers saw the Vatican official sit alongside his guest and say: "You're very good-looking."
"Thank you," replied the younger man, before putting it to his host that he was about to commit a sin.
"Idon't feel it is a sin," said the official. When the other man insistedthat it was at odds with the teaching of the church, the Vaticanofficial brought the conversation to an abrupt end.
When hisguest bade farewell, saying "It's been a pleasure," the Vaticanofficial replied: "Not for me, because you don't fancy me."
Mgr Stenico acknowledged in several Italian media interviews yesterday that he had been suspended.
Buthe told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that he "wanted to carry outa study, probably for publication". He said he was a registeredpsychologist and psychotherapist and his aim had been "to study howpriests are ensnared".
He added: "I really believe that there is a diabolic plan by satanist groups who take aim at priests."
FatherLombardi said the Vatican had to act with the decisiveness and severitycalled for by behaviour incompatible with priestly service and the HolySee. Mgr Stenico's case is expected to be judged by a special tribunalof the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It is thelatest of several recent embarrassments for the Catholic church inItaly. One of its best-known priests, renowned for his care of drugaddicts, is being investigated for sex abuse. And prosecutors in bothTurin and Siena are looking into claims of sex abuse and financialwrongdoing by senior church officials.
for a listing of alternate locations.