A few days ago, the Catholic blogosphere began buzzing with the sensational charge that a prostitution ring involving homosexual pedophiles had been discovered at the Vatican.
Is this true?
Or is it one more case of people running amok with rumors?
Here are 8 things you need to know . . .
1. What was initially reported?
The initial claim was that there was a former priest who applied to the Holy See to be reinstated to the priesthood, though he had been convicted of pedophilia and sent to prison.
- When the Holy See refused to reinstate him, he got mad and began acting as a whistleblower on the existence of a prostitution ring involving pedophiles at the Vatican.
- It was claimed that 10-20 members of the clergy were involved, possibly including 4 bishops.
- Further, it was claimed that the procurer for the boy prostitution ring sold consecrated hosts to Satanists.
2. Who was the priest in question?
His name is Patrizio (Patrick) Poggi.
According to The Daily Mail:
Don Patrizio Poggi, 46, who served a five-year sentence for abusing five boys aged 14 to 15, at his parish outside Rome [St. Philip Neri]. . . .
3. What happened next?
According to The Daily Mail:
Don [Fr.] Patrizio Poggi, 46, told Italian authorities that a former Carabinieri [i.e., an ex-policeman] pimped boys for nine clergymen. . . .
The boys were chosen because they were starving and desperate, he claimed, according to Il Messaggero newspaper.
The former policeman used to recruit the boys, mostly eastern European immigrants, outside a gay bar named Twink near Rome's Termini train station. He reportedly sat in his Fiat Panda - marked "Emergency Blood" to avoid parking fines - to make his selection.
He was helped in the recruitment process by a friend who ran a modelling agency. He lured underage boys into prostitution through "false work offers for modelling and acting roles", Poggi said.
The agent also looked for rentboys at gay discos, saunas and gyms across Rome. An accountant was also said to be involved.
The boys were paid €150-€500 (£130-£425) [i.e., US$ 200-650] to perform sex acts in church premises across the capital.
Poggi also accused the former Carabinieri of selling consecrated hosts for satanic rites.
Poggi reportedly presented documentary and photographic evidence to police in the company of two senior Vatican clergymen who vouched for his credibility.
4. Was there any reaction from anyone at the Vatican?
According to The Daily Mail:
The allegations were rejected by the Vatican. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, head of the Catholic Vicariate of Rome, said the priest made false claims out of a desire for vengeance and personal resentment.
The Vatican refused to reinstate Poggi after he served his term.
"The cardinal expresses his full confidence in the magistracy and declares himself full convinced that this slander will be demolished, demonstrating Poggi's claims to be untrue," Vallini said.
"God will hold everyone accountable for their deeds."
5. Who’s lying here?
It appears, at this point, that Poggi is.
In fact, he himself has now been arrested by the Italian police. The Times of London reports:
The convicted paedophile priest who told police that other Catholic clergy used underage rent-boys was arrested for slander yesterday after prosecutors concluded he had made up the allegations.
Prosecutors said the claims by Patrizio Poggi, who served a five-year sentence for child abuse while a priest on the outskirts of Rome, were “untrue or based on mere hearsay” and motivated by personal animosity against some of the clerics named. They accused him of attempting to coach possible victims to back up his allegations.
6. How did the arrest occur?
According to the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero (Google translation):
The Investigative Unit of the Carabinieri in Rome have arrested the former priest Patrick Poggi, pursuant to an order of preventive detention issued by the investigating magistrate Aldo Morgigni, at the request of deputy prosecutor of the Prosecutor's Office of Rome, Maria Monteleone.
Poggi is being investigated for the crime of aggravated slander. . . .
It goes on to say that investigations carried out by the Police Investigative Unit have shown Poggi devised and implemented a libelous plan, based on falsehoods or mere hearsay, and that he was motivated by personal reasons of resentment against some of the prelates he accused.
It also states:
During the investigation, [it was] also revealed that Poggi has planned to build false witness evidence concerning abuse of minors committed by people he denounced, in order to further substantiate his statements, [and he] tried to affect some subjects he cites as witnesses so that, summoned by the court to be heard as people informed about the facts, they would furnish a version consistent with the framework outlined by him in the complaint.
7. Is there more?
According to some Italian press accounts, yes.
According to Corriere della Sera, a wiretap of Poggi and his mother revealed him saying that he wanted to kill certain priests and bishops (Google translation):
. . . to the point that if he had the financial resources they would "get killed and they would not even know why."
8. Is there a broader lesson to be learned from this?
There seem to be several that can be learned:
- It is well known that the Italian press is rumor-driven and often contains inaccurate information (even more than the American press). Consequently, one should not disturb the peace of others by rushing to repeat sensationalistic rumors before the facts are clear (particularly in a form where the details are so vague that people cannot check up on the situation for themselves and make their own judgments).
- Even now, the facts are not entirely clear. Poggi has apparently been arrested, but he has not yet been convicted. Since the charges he made have now been broadcast in the English-language blogosphere, it’s important to note the subsequent developments as well.
- We shouldn’t be too quick to take the word of a convicted felon who applies for reinstatement and who then starts making highly inflammatory and, in fact, criminal allegations that reflect on the people that didn’t reinstate him. That conjunction of facts alone should make us take a “wait and see” attitude.
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