Of all the rumors floating around about just why Pope Benedict XVI is hanging up his camauro, one has taken on a life of its own. According to several well-placed vaticanisti—or Vatican experts—in Rome, Benedict is resigning after being handed a secret red-covered dossier that included details about a network of gay priests who work inside the Vatican, but who play in secular Rome. The priests, it seems, are allegedly being blackmailed by a network of male prostitutes who worked at a sauna in Rome’s Quarto Miglio district, a health spa in the city center, and a private residence once entrusted to a prominent archbishop. The evidence reportedly includes compromising photos and videos of the prelates—sometimes caught on film in drag, and, in some cases, caught “in the act.”
Revelations about the alleged network are the basis of a 300-page report supposedly delivered to Benedict on December 17 by Cardinals Julian Herranz, Joseph Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi. According to the press reports, it was on that day that Benedict XVI decided once and for all to retire, after toying with the idea for months. He reportedly closed the dossier and locked it away in the pontifical apartment safe to be handed to his successor to deal with. According to reports originally printed by La Repubblica newspaper and the newsweekly Panorama (and followed up across the gamut of the Italian media), the crimes the cardinals uncovered involved breaking the commandments “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” the latter of which has been used in Vatican-speak to also refer to homosexual relations instead of the traditional reference to infidelity.
The trio of cardinals who authored the report, known in the Italian press as the “007 Priests,” were commissioned by Benedict to dig into the Vatileaks scandal that rocked the Holy See last fall when the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was convicted of stealing secret papal documents and leaking them to the press. The sleuthing cardinals ran a parallel investigation to the Vatican tribunal’s criminal case against the butler, but theirs was far more covert and focused not on the mechanics of the leaks, but on who within the Roman Curia might be the brains behind them. And, according to the leaked reports, what the “007 Priests” found went far beyond the pope’s private desk. “What’s coming out is very detailed X-ray of the Roman Curia that does not spare even the closest collaborators of the Pope,” wrote respected Vatican expert Ignazio Ingrao in Panorama. “The Pope was no stranger to the intrigues, but he probably did not know that under his pontificate there was such a complex network and such intricate chains of personal interests and unmentionable relationships.”
The existence of a gay-priest network outside the fortified walls of Vatican City is hardly news, and many are wondering if it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of sex scandals. In 2010, investigative journalist Carmello Abbate went undercover with a hidden camera to write a shocking exposé called “Good Nights Out for Gay Priests”.
Abbate caught the priests on hidden camera dirty dancing at private parties and engaging in sex acts with male escorts on church property. He also caught them emerging from dark bedrooms just in time to celebrate mass. In one postcoital scene, a priest parades around seminaked, wearing only his clerical vestments. “This is not about homosexuality,” Abbate told The Daily Beast when he published the exposé. “This is about private vices and public virtues. This is about serious hypocrisy in the Catholic Church.”
Because so much of the secret lives of gay priests is actually not so secret thanks to Abbate’s exposé and subsequent book, Sex and the Vatican, many are wondering what else could be hidden in the alleged red-covered dossier. Vatican elite have also been loosely tied to a number of other secular scandals during Benedict’s tenure, including the ultra-tawdry affair between former Lazio governor Piero Marrazzo and several transvestite prostitutes, including one named “Brenda” who was found burned to death in 2009. At the time that Marrazzo’s relationships with the transvestites were discovered, his driver reportedly told investigators that several high-ranking priests and even cardinals were customers of Rome’s elite transsexual circuit, though no proof was ever provided and no one has ever been arrested tied to the transsexual prostitution circuit. Nor has anyone mentioned whether reference to these crimes might also be in the dossier. But Marrazzo was whisked off to the Vatican-owned Monte Cassino abbey south of Rome to do his penance, and he even wrote a letter to Vatican Secretary of State Tarciso Bertone asking for Pope Benedict XVI’s forgiveness.
Whatever secrets the red binders supposedly hold will have to remain just that until the next pope is elected. But Ingrao believes its contents are so important that the dossier will be like the 118th cardinal in the conclave. “Many new skeletons from the closets of the cardinals could come out until the beginning of the conclave,” says Ingrao. “Many voters know or claim to know the secrets of their brothers, but it is already clear that the new pope who leaves the Sistine Chapel will have to be scandal-free in order to proceed with cleaning up [what] Ratzinger has left for his successor.”