Vatican orders gay priests to clear out

THE Catholic Church in Italy, still reeling from the clerical sex abuse scandal, has lashed out at gay priests who are leading a double life, urging them to come out of the closet and leave the priesthood.

The Diocese of Rome issued the strongly worded statement last Friday after the conservative weekly magazine Panorama printed a cover story and accompanying video claiming it had interviewed three gay priests in Rome and accompanied them to gay clubs and bars and to sexual encounters with strangers, including one in a church building.

One of the priests, a Frenchman identified only as Paul, celebrated Mass in the morning before driving to the airport the two escorts he had hired to attend a party the night before, according to the magazine.

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In a statement, the Rome diocese denounced those priests who were leading a "double life", said they should not have been ordained and promised that the church would rigorously pursue anyone who is behaving in a way that was not dignified for a priest.

It insisted the vast majority of Rome's 1,300 priests were truthful to their vocations and were "models of morality for all".

Those who are not faithful to their vows "know that no-one is forcing them to remain priests, taking advantage of only the benefits", the diocese said.

"Coherency would demand that they come forward. We don't wish any ill-will against them, but we cannot accept that because of their behaviour the honour of all the others is sullied."

Church teaching holds that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered", and the Vatican has recently cracked down on gays in the priesthood.

In his first major policy statement as pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI issued an instruction barring actively gay priests from seminaries. It said that men "who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture"' cannot be admitted to the church's teaching establishments for priests.

The only exception would be for those with a "transitory problem" they had overcome for at least three years. A member of the clergy quoted by the magazine put the proportion of priests who are gay in Rome at "98 per cent".