Pope Francis to investigate 'playboy priests' who posed naked online in scandal-hit disocese

A Catholic church representative is to probe the 'black sheep' diocese of Albenga-Imperia for alleged sexual harassment of parishioners and involvement in pornography

The Telegraph, UK/October 23, 2014

By Nick Squires

A scandal-ridden Catholic diocese in Italy where priests posted naked photos of themselves on gay websites, raided church coffers and sexually harassed parishioners is to be investigated by a special envoy to Pope Francis.

The Pope reportedly intends to send an “apostolic administrator” to assess allegations that the diocese of Albenga-Imperia, in the Liguria region of northern Italy, has hosted a string of “playboy priests” moon-lighting as barmen, stealing parish funds and getting tattooed.

Described by one Italian newspaper as “the most gossiped about diocese in Italy”, it has been run for the last 25 years by Bishop Mario Oliveri, 70.

He is expected to be replaced in the near future by an auxiliary bishop, according to Il Secolo XIX, the region’s main newspaper.

Pope Francis has already sent Adriano Bernardini, an apostolic nuncio, or ambassador, to conduct a preliminary investigation into the scandals thay have allegedly unfolded under Bishop Oliveri’s watch.

The bishop himself is not accused of any wrongdoing, but is reported to have been overly-charitable in recruiting “black sheep” priests with distinctly chequered pasts, including trainee priests expelled from seminaries for misconduct.

They include a priest who was found guilty of organising an under-age prostitution ring and others who posted nude photos of themselves on Facebook and gay websites.

Priests in the diocese have been accused of sexually harassing parishioners, living with gay partners and stealing Communion money.

Father Luciano Massaferro, for instance, a parish priest, was sentenced to nearly eight years in prison after being found guilty of sexually abusing an altar boy. He had been strenuously defended by the bishop.

The large number of scandals were brought to the Vatican’s attention by appalled parishioners, including a doctor, Luisa Bonello, who wrote to the Pope in February. She committed suicide last month.

When asked about the investigation, Bishop Oliveri, a fervent traditionalist who once celebrated a three-hour Mass in Latin, told La Repubblica newspaper: “I don’t want to talk about it. This is not the right time.”

A Vatican spokesman said the Holy See would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

“We never comment on these matters - they are confidential and it wouldn’t be correct,” Father Ciro Benedettini told The Telegraph. “We would only issue a statement at the end of the investigation, if any decisions are taken.”

Since being elected in March 2013, Pope Francis has shown that he has little patience for senior figures within the Church who transgress.

In March this year, the Argentinean pontiff removed from his post Germany’s so-called “bishop of bling”, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, after it emerged that he had spent 31 million euros of Church funds on his own residence in the diocese of Limburg.

His palatial residence featured a free-standing bath that cost 15,000 euros, a conference table that cost 25,000 euros and a private chapel that cost nearly three million euros to build.

The bishop’s extravagant spending was sharply at odds with the message of austerity and humility that Pope Francis has promoted since succeeding Benedict XVI 18 months ago.

In July, in an unprecedented move sanctioned by the Pope, a Catholic archbishop and former Holy See ambassador was defrocked after being convicted of sexually abusing teenage boys, making him the most senior Vatican figure to be punished for such a crime.

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who was the Vatican’s nuncio to the Dominican Republic, was found guilty of sex abuse by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He is now under houses arrest, pending the outcome of criminal proceedings launched by Vatican judicial authorities.

He has been charged with sexual abuse of minors and possession of child pornography.

He is expected to be put on trial before a Vatican tribunal early next year and if convicted faces up to seven years in jail.

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