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In the aftermath of Thursday’s blockbuster account by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica of a gay sex lobby in the Vatican “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,” several reporters remind us that this is “hardly news.”

La Repubblica's report is validated by other accounts of a Vatican gay network including a book published in Italy several years ago called Gone with the Wind in the Vatican.

In 2007, Msgr. Thomas Stenico in the Congregation for Clergy was suspended after being caught on hidden camera making contact with a young man posing as a potential “date” in gay-oriented chat rooms, then taking him back to his Vatican apartment. In 2010, a “Gentlemen of the Pope” named Angelo Balducci was caught in a wiretap trying to arrange sexual hookups through a Nigerian member of a Vatican choir. Both episodes were highly public and caused massive embarrassment.
In 2010, investigative journalist Carmello Abbate went undercover with a hidden camera to write a shocking expose 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 expose. “This is about private vices and public virtues. This is about serious hypocrisy in the Catholic Church.”
Barbie Latza Nadeau, Vatican reporter for The Daily Beast, wonders “if it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of sex scandals.”

The information about blackmail was only part of a report given to Pope Benedict XVI by three cardinals in December. Because of the early 2012 Vatileaks scandal when confidential documents taken from the Vatican, some from the pope’s office, were given to an Italian journalist, the pope assigned a group of cardinals, headed by Opus Dei prelate Julian Herranz, to discover the sources of the leaks at the same time the Vatican was telling the world that the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was solely responsible. Now that La Repubblica knows the report's contents, that means someone on the cardinals’ committee investigating press leaks is also leaking documents to the press.

The cardinals’ report also informed the pope what everyone already knew – there are turf wars inside the Vatican between other factions and cliques. The cardinals said that some of the division is caused by “fights for power and money” as well as “gay lobby.” The Moynihan Report shows the photos of two men it inferred belong to both the financial group and the group being blackmailed: Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, Vatican undersecretary of state, and Rene Brülhart, director of the Authority of Financial Information. Other articles mention only Balestrero.

Balestrero is probably best remembered as the Vatican liaison with Monneyval. Pope Benedict had invited this European watchdog agency to evaluate the regulations he had put in place to meet international banking standards as regards anti-terrorism and anti-money-laundering measures. In July 2012, when Moneyval gave the Vatican a passing grade on its unused and unenforced regulations, it was Balestrero who gave the press conference. He told us how “the Holy See enjoys a recognized moral voice and in this sense is deeply connected not only with its immediate neighbors, but with all countries of the world.”  

One of Moneyval’s recommendations was that the Vatican agency which Benedict had created to oversee all financial areas, the Authority of Financial Information, be more “independent.” So the layman Rene Brülhart was appointed by the pope to replace the cardinal appointed by the pope. When the announcement was made in October that  Brülhart was hired, The Economist noted that the former head of Liechtenstein’s financial intelligence unit “has been recruited to clean up the Vatican’s reputation.”

Friday, Balestrero’s appointment as Vatican ambassador to Colombia was announced. Vatican press spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said that Balestero’s transfer had been planned for awhile, but then the contents of the cardinals’ report has been known for awhile, too. No word on Brülhart.

Speaking of conjecture about Vatican gays, within days after Benedict announced his resignation, we were assured that Archbishop Georg Gänswein, a former professor at Opus Dei’s Pontifical College of the Holy Cross in Rome, would continue as both Benedict’s personal secretary and as prefect of the papal household no matter who was the next pope. Since each pope appoints his own staff, this was just one of the many peculiarities surrounding Benedict’s departure. As head of the papal household, Gänswein will be able to report to Benedict, who is retiring to a “humble” 4300 sq. ft. monastery inside Vatican City, who his replacement consults with on a daily basis.

Another peculiarity, according to the current law, a conclave to choose the next pope is to begin 15 days after the papacy becomes vacant, so March 15 was the expected start date. Since the vacancy usually occurs when a pope dies, time is allowed for the ritual mourning period. Benedict, however, announced his resignation several weeks in advance, so the elector/cardinals already have had an opportunity to consult with each other about who they want as a successor. Fr. Lombardi’s statements in this regard have added to the confusion. First he said that Pope Benedict would probably make the start date of the conclave sooner, then he said it was “up to the cardinals.”

Perhaps the confusion is because most Vatican experts agree that a lengthy conclave will reinforce the perception of division within the Church. Pope John Paul II issued rules that a pope could be elected by a simple majority rather than the two-thirds vote previously required if the conclave failed to elect a new pope after thirty ballots, or roughly seven days. As Vatican expert John L. Allen Jr. explains,

Procedurally, the conclave of 2005 never got anywhere close to invoking that provision, since they elected Benedict XVI in just four ballots. Psychologically, however, some cardinals said afterward that everyone knew that codicil was on the books, so that once Ratzinger's vote total crossed the 50 percent threshold, the outcome seemed all but inevitable.

In 2007, Benedict XVI issued an amendment to John Paul's document, eliminating the possibility of election by a simple majority. This time, the cardinals know that whoever's elected has to draw support from two-thirds of the college under any circumstances, which may mean they're less inclined to simply jump on a bandwagon when someone gets half the votes in a given round.

Which means that if a short conclave is desirable, the votes have to be ascertained beforehand. But according to the experts, no consensus is even close. Two of the papabile, or cardinals considered as possible pope, have already been disqualified by adverse press coverage. Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson in an interview with CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour told her “that Africa has been spared from the worst pains of the sex-abuse scandal because of the cultural forces arrayed in opposition to homosexuality.” Jews have protested the candidacy of Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras as “a notorious anti-Semite.”

In fact, there are no frontrunners at this point. The two most powerful men in the curia, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarsicio Bertone who leads the pro-EU/German contingency, and dean of the College of Cardinals Angelo Sodano who heads the Italian “old guard,” are both disqualified and their influence tainted: Bertone because his incompetence was a major subject of the Vatileaks scandal and Sodano because of his patronage of the late Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who sexually abused his seminarians and his own children born from his mistresses.

Opus Dei Archbishop José Gomez, in usurping the authority of the pope even before Benedict announced his resignation, thought he was scoring a PR triumph for himself by acting “tough” and forbidding his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, to engage in all public functions in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Since then, there have been numerous calls for Mahony to remove himself from the conclave because of his record of aiding and abetting the sexual torture of hundreds of children.

Gomez’s scheme, however, has backfired. Now there are demands that all cardinals guilty of sex abuse or covering it up stay home: New York’s Timothy Dolan, Philadelphia’s Justin Rigali, Ireland’s Sean Brady, Belgian Godfried Danneels, the Dutch Ad Simonis, Scotland’s Keith O’Brien and probably more to come. So not only the papabile are garnering adverse publicity, but the electors also.

All this news surrounding Benedict's resignation has created an opportunity for the unprecedented airing grievances against the Catholic Church. Among the best of such articles is the transcript of a radio interview by Matthew Fox, former priest and author of 30 books on culture and spirituality. Fox is one of the 105 theologians persecuted by Joseph Ratzinger. Fox asserts that “when you dumb down the Church” by expelling people for their ideas, corruption ensues. He castigates the last two popes for backing the “cult” of Opus Dei which he calls a “radical, fascist, right-wing Catholic movement begun by a fascist priest, Escriva, who actually praised Hitler."

Opus Dei is this movement that was backed wholeheartedly by the last two popes, and they're secretive, and they're very powerful. I'll tell you a story. I was in Frankfurt a few years ago and a journalist took me to lunch in downtown Frankfurt, and he said “Look out there. How buildings do you see being built?” I said, “It looks like seven skyscrapers.” He said, “Yes. Every one is about finance, because the head of finance is moving from Switzerland to Frankfurt because of the Euro,” and he said that “At the top of each of those skyscrapers will be Opus Dei.” So, Opus Dei goes where the power is.
That said, I believe I was wrong declaring Opus Dei in power in a previous diary. Since then, we have seen the confidentiality of Herranz’s committee breached, Gomez’s strategy misfiring and the American Opus Dei Fox News reporter (which tells you a lot about the political bias of the US episcopate), Greg Burke, hired to “shape” Vatican news, has been shown to be both immoral and ineffectual.  

The pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, told Vatican investigators: “Seeing evil and corruption everywhere in the church, I finally reached a point of degeneration, a point of no return, and could no longer control myself.” A shock, “perhaps through the media,” Gabriele continued, could “bring the church back on the right track.” Burke’s “damage control strategy” was to “heap blame on the butler as a simpleton suffering delusions of grandeur and use the Vatican trial that convicted the butler as evidence of the church’s commitment to transparency.” Except that as Washington Post reporter Jason Horowitz explains, the reporters present “didn’t hear everything.” Under the rules of the Vatican tribunal which conducted the trial, Gabriele’s testimony would be severely restricted.

Fr. Lombardi is still director of the Vatican Press Office and has augmented his “media team” by adding two priests, the English-speaking Canadian, Tom Rosica, and the Spanish speaker, Gil Tamayo, with Burke nowhere to be seen.

So perhaps Opus Dei has been discredited enough that they will no longer be able to dictate who the next pope will be. Of course we don’t know what other sources of money the cardinals have to pay for their exquisite lace and brocades and that will ultimately decide the matter

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