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Catholic church blasts gay priests

The Catholic Church in Italy, still reeling from the clerical sex abuse scandal, has lashed out at gay priests leading a double life, urging them to come out of the closet and leave the priesthood.

The Diocese of Rome issued the strongly-worded statement after the conservative Panorama news-weekly said in a cover story and accompanying video that it had interviewed three gay priests in Rome and accompanied them to gay clubs and bars and to sexual encounters with strangers, including one in a church building.

One of the priests, a Frenchman identified only as Paul, celebrated Mass in the morning before driving the two escorts he had hired to attend a party the night before to the airport, Panorama said.

In a statement, the Rome diocese condemned those priests who were leading a "double life", said they should not have been ordained and promised that the Church would rigorously pursue anyone behaving in a way that was not dignified for a priest.

It insisted that the vast majority of Rome's 1,300 priests were truthful to their vocations and "models of morality for all".

Those who aren't faithful to their vows "know that no one is forcing them to remain priests, taking advantage of only the benefits", the diocese said.

"Coherency would demand that they come forward. We don't wish any ill-will against them, but we cannot accept that because of their behaviour the honour of all the others is sullied."

No-one knows the exact number of gays in the priesthood. Estimates of the number of gays in US seminaries and the priesthood range from 25% to 50%, according to a review of research by the Rev Donald Cozzens, an author of The Changing Face Of The Priesthood."

Church teaching holds that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered" and the Vatican has recently cracked down on gays in the priesthood.

In his first major policy statement as pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI issued an instruction in 2005 barring actively gay priests from seminaries. The instruction said men "who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture'" cannot be admitted to seminaries. The only exception would be for those with a "transitory problem" that had been overcome for at least three years.

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