A recent move by Pope Francis to investigate a so-called “black sheep” diocese suggests that perhaps the current place to party with disgraced priests is in northern Italy.
According to news reports, an “apostolic administrator” will be sent by the Pope to probe the possible wrongdoings of a diocese run by a bishop suspected of specifically seeking out clerics with checkered pasts or priests-in-training who have been kicked out of seminaries.
Among the scandalous accusations being hurled at members of the Albenga-Imperia diocese are sexual harassment of churchgoers, unabashed gay cohabitation, and expropriation of church donations. In addition, some of the “playboy priests,” as the media has labeled them, are alleged to have moonlighted as bartenders, gotten tattoos, engaged in bodybuilding, and posted naked photos of themselves on gay websites.
According to one of the region’s local newspapers, this much-gossipped-about diocese has for the past quarter of a century been lorded over by Bishop Mario Oliveri, 70, who — despite not being directly accused of misconduct — will be soon be relieved of his duties.
Oliveri, who reportedly defended one parish priest who was convicted of sexually abusing an altar boy, has declined to comment on the investigation, as has a Vatican spokesperson. However, since his March 2013 appointment, Pope Francis has demonstrated a zero-tolerance approach to handling senior figures in the church who trespass, including authorizing the recent removal of a German bishop who was accused of spending 31 million euros of the church’s money on his private residence.
While we can’t condone crimes against children or the outright theft of funds, a religious order that promotes cocktails, tattoos, bodybuilding and pornography involving consensual adults doesn’t sound half bad. Rather than disciplining the priests of Albenga-Imperia, perhaps the church should allow them to break free and form their own gay-friendly sect. It might just be divine.