By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
A monsignor in the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy has been suspended after being caught on hidden camera in a recent Italian TV broadcast about gays in the priesthood, in which he and other priests made contact with a young man posing as a potential “date” in gay-oriented web sites and chat rooms, and then arranged for meetings the priests apparently believed would lead to sexual encounters.
In the wake of the disclosures, the Vatican official in question, Italian Monsignor Tommaso Stenico, claims that he was only pretending to be gay in order to uncover what he described as plots to damage the church by targeting vulnerable priests with homosexual tendencies.
Stenico, 60, has served in the Vatican since 1982. His current assignment is as a capo ufficio, or “head of the office,” within the Congregation for Clergy with special responsibility for catechesis. He’s also a fixture in the Italian Catholic media, and has published several books on spiritual and catechetical subjects.t
On Oct. 1, the Italian television program “Exit” broadcast separate encounters recorded using a hidden camera with three priests and a young man secretly working for the TV program. The voices and faces were disguised, but one of the priests was clearly a Vatican official, since the camera showed the priest and the young man entering an elevator inside one of the office buildings used by the Roman curia, and also showed the outer door of the Congregation for Clergy. After some conversation in his Vatican office, the priest appears to try to initiate a sexual encounter, but pulls away when the young man expresses doubts.
In short order, Vatican authorities flagged Stenico as the priest and suspended him from office. He could face other disciplinary consequences.
“I can’t deny the facts,” said Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardio, Vatican spokesperson, responding to requests for comment from reporters. “The superiors are handling the situation with the due reserve and with the due respect for the person involved, even if this person has erred.” Lombardi said that Vatican authorities “must intervene with the severity demanded by behavior that is not compatible with priestly service and with the mission of the Holy See.”
Yesterday, however, a statement from Stenico appeared on the Italian Catholic web site “Petrus,” where his commentaries appear regularly. Stenico, who holds a degree in psychology in addition to his theological training, said that after discussions with his spiritual director, he decided to become a “thief among thieves” to determine if there was an effort to damage the church through the weaknesses of gay priests.
“I discovered that there is,” Stenico wrote. “There’s a diabolical plan by groups of Satanists that single out priests.”
Stenico said that his aim in pretending to be gay was to understand this world, not to participate in it. Stenico also asserted that being caught on a hidden camera could be a form of retribution for having earlier complained to police about a young man who offered him sexual favors in exchange for his help in obtaining a job.t
“I’ve lived my life as a priest persecuted by much calumny, envy and jealousy,” Stenico wrote.
Before his recent difficulties, Stenico appeared regularly on the Italian Catholic TV network Telepace and on Radio Maria, where he had a monthly program on “Evangelization, Catechesis and Catechists.”
In the “Exit” broadcast, Stenico meets the young man posing as his “date” in St. Peter’s Square, and the two get into the priest’s car and enter the Vatican through a parking garage. They enter a Vatican office, where Stenico talks at some length about the church and homosexuality, defending, for example, the church’s position that marriage should be restricted to a man and a woman, while conceding the possibility of other legal arrangements for same-sex couples. They also briefly discuss sado-masochism, with Stenico referring to it as “a choice within the psychological depths of a personality.”
At one point, the priest says to the young man “I’m waiting for you … come here,” and at another tells him “you’re very cute, you’re completely cute.” The young man then says, “You’re about to commit a sin with me before the eyes of God,” to which the priest responds, “No, I don’t feel that it’s a sin.” When the young man does not respond, the priest later identified as Stenico says it’s clear that the young man is feeling “conflicted.” The priest says he will put him on the elevator to leave, advising him not to say anything if someone approaches him.
An on-line version of the “Exit” segment can be found here: http://www.la7.it/blog/post_dettaglio.asp?idblog=15&ID=1065