(CBS) March 6, 2010
(AP Photo/Plinio Lepri)
The Vatican is facing allegations that one of Pope Benedict's ceremonial ushers, as well as a member of the Vatican choir, were involved in a gay prostitution ring.
"The latest shadow on the church's image," reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth, "comes from leaked police reports (on) wiretaps in a separate corruption case. The Vatican wasn't a target, but it's taken a hit."
The recordings, according to Italian press, reveal Angelo Balducci, an Italian executive who's been a Gentleman of his Holiness -- the elite group of black-suited men who serve the pope in unpaid roles as ushers -- negotiating with the 29-year-olf Nigerian Vatican choir member for the services of male prostitutes, as part of the larger prostitution ring.
The Vatican reportedly has cut ties to both men but, notes Roth, "bad publicity over sex and sexual abuse charges still confronts the church.
"We're just scratching the surface here," says CBS News consultant Father Thomas Williams. "There's definitely more to come. We only know of these two men connected with the Vatican in some way, but obviously, they're talking about a ring, and a ring means definitely more people involved. So, I'm sure more will be coming out in the days to come."
Williams, speaking from Vatican City, observed to "Early Show Saturday Edition" co-anchor Chris Wragge that, "It's really a sordid affair, and we really didn't need this right now, but it is what it is."
How could a papal usher have been involved in what authorities claim Balducci was up to?
Vatican officials, says Williams, have
The Catholic church, Williams says, has "got to endure it. What gives us a little bit of hope and consolation -- you look back over the centuries, and this has been going on for an awfully long time. It's not something unique to the Catholic Church, either. It's a part of our fallen human nature. People do this. It's just hard when it's people who are very well-known, people who have celebrity and people especially connected to a religious organization who are meant to give a better example."
Williams admits it's "very tough" coping within his own order when charges of these nature surface. "This is something that's very painful for all of us and it makes me appreciate what other people have suffered, as well, because you really feel let down. It's like having a father figure, mother figure, someone who's been very close to you who goes and does something terrible and you do, you feel very let down. But you have to just pick up the pieces and keep going."
In addition to working for the government, the official involved in the scandal served as a papal usher for the Vatican.
Nigerian who sang in a Vatican choir purportedly arranged gay liaisons for a government official
The Italian official served in the unpaid role as papal usher
Rome, Italy (CNN) -- Reports that an Italian government official accused of financial corruption allegedly used a Vatican choir singer to arrange gay liaisons for him are "shameful," the official's lawyer told CNN Saturday.
Angelo Balducci is appealing a judge's decision to keep him in prison over allegations of financial corruption, said his lawyer, Franco Coppi.
Police say they learned of the alleged gay liaisons while wiretapping Balducci as part of an investigation into how public-works contracts were awarded. His lawyer says he is innocent of the corruption charges, and declined to comment on the sex scandal.
Balducci oversaw the Italian government's awarding of construction contracts, including work on the airport at Perugia. He also served in the unpaid role of papal usher. Italian authorities say they recorded conversations between Balducci and Thomas Chinedu Ehiem, a 39-year-old Nigerian singer. They were recorded between April 14, 2008, and January 20, 2010.
In addition to working for the government, Balducci served as a "gentleman of His Holiness," also known as a papal usher or "Vatican gentleman." The main responsibility of the ceremonial position is to welcome heads of state to the Vatican and escort them to see the pope. Balducci is one of three public officials who, along with a businessman, have been jailed on charges related to corruption in the public works department. The public officials are alleged to have awarded contracts to businessmen who offered them favors, money, sex, and/or house remodeling in exchange. The suspects, who deny the charges, are in "cautionary custody" though they have not been charged or indicted.
The Italian news media have nicknamed the scandal "grande opere," which translates as "big works." The transcripts of the wiretaps were made public on Wednesday and widely disseminated in the media.
Ehiem told the Italian weekly magazine Panorama in an interview published Friday that he provided Balducci with men from Italy and abroad, including rugby players, actors, models and seminarians. Ehiem also told Panorama that he arranged for Balducci to meet escorts at Ehiem's house when the government official was in Rome and in Paris, France; Naples, Italy; and other cities when he was traveling.
"For Balducci, a 26- or 27-year-old man was too young," Ehiem told the magazine. "He preferred older men, above 40 years old."
According to the wiretap transcripts, in a conversation dated April 22, 2008, Ehiem says,
In another conversation, dated August 21, 2008, Ehiem says:
Balducci: "Which are the better ones?"
Balducci: "All right, then let's do it for 3:30."
Ehiem said an escort friend introduced him to the Italian businessman more than a decade ago.
He added, "Sometimes he would ask for two meetings a day."
Ehiem told Panorama he was trying to support his family in Nigeria, and that Balducci sometimes paid him 50 or 100 euros, but "never more than 1,000 to 1,500 per year."
Neither Balducci nor his attorney has commented on Ehiem's interview with Panorama. A Vatican source who asked not to be identified said Ehiem had been dismissed from his choir duties. Asked about Balducci, the source said,
"If he is convicted, then we will look into it," the source said.