With such a hard line anti-gay stance that the Catholic church is willing to withdraw benefits from children in need in order to avoid serving gay families, it would be pretty embarrassing for them to get caught with a major gay sex scandal. Almost as embarrassing as if church elders were caught buying sex, something the church has denounced as immoral. But a close attendant to the Pope actively running a gay prostitution ring? Now that's embarrassing. Could it get any worse? Actually, it might.
Angelo Balducci, a Gentleman of His Holiness (which is basically an attendant), was recently taped negotiating with a member of the Vatican chorus to buy men for sex. Balducci was allegedly paying 2,000 euros ($2714) for each man who was delivered to him. Obviously, a gay prostitution scandal revealing a whopping dose of hypocrisy at the top of the Catholic Church is pretty humiliating for all involved. But I still have some burning question. Were all of these men adults? Did they all go to Balducci under their own free will? Or were some of them forced or coerced into selling themselves to this incredibly powerful man, who could lord over them not just money and physical power, but also their spiritual fate?
As Gay Rights blogger Mike Jones points out in his post on this scandal, police wiretaps picked up a negotiation with one young man to go and have sex with Balducci. According to the tapes, a Vatican assistant told the young man, "You'll get up to 2,000 euros ... Do not touch his balls. You need the money. Put on some music, take out the [inaudible], swallow the Viagra, and adelante!"
Now, does that sounds like a young man who is looking forward to engaging in a sex act at the Vatican? Or does it sound like a young man who needs money and is being instructed to take drugs in order to be able to perform sexually, when he otherwise wouldn't want to? It's hard to tell from that audio snippet alone whether this young man or any of the others were coerced into having sex with Balducci, but as the investigation continues, I hope police look carefully into the ages and willingness of the men involved.
Balducci's other requests for men read like he's ordering human beings off a menu. He imported at least three immigrants for sex, described as "black Cuban lads" and "a German who has just arrived from Germany" in most of the news reports. Immigrants can be especially vulnerable to exploitation in the commercial sex industry, especially if they don't have proper documentation. Depending on the circumstances of their being in Italy, may have felt pressure to accept Balducci's sexual request or the inability to refuse him or his money. And as Balducci's assistants describe their sizes, shapes, and ethnicities as one would describe that evening's specials, the men begin to sound more and more like entrees and less like humans.
As this story unfolds, we're sure to learn more about the circumstances under which this prostitution ring operated. It is my hope that none of the young men involved in Balducci's prostitution web were exploited. Forcing or coercing other people into sex is never okay. It's not okay if the victims are men. It's not okay if the exploiters work for the Catholic Church. But it will take true diligence from those investigating this situation to understand what happened and bring justice to those who were harmed.