Saturday 27 May 2017

Pope's usher let go in gay prostitution ring claims

Philip Pullella in Vatican City

One of Pope Benedict's ceremonial ushers and a member of an elite choir in St Peter's Basilica has been implicated in a gay prostitution ring, in the latest sexual scandal to taint the Vatican.

Ghinedu Ehiem, a Nigerian, was dismissed by the Vatican on Wednesday from the Giulia Choir after his name appeared in transcripts of police wiretaps, published by an Italian newspaper, in an unrelated Italian investigation.

The wiretaps were carried out in connection with a probe into corruption in contracts to build public works, including the planned venue in Sardinia of last year's G8 summit. The summit was eventually moved to the Abruzzo region as part of efforts to help it recover from an earthquake.

Among four people arrested last month in the corruption probe was Angelo Balducci, a engineer who is a board member of Italy's public works department and a construction consultant to the Vatican. Mr Balducci was arrested on corruption charges and the allegations of prostitution emerged only later.



Elite

Mr Balducci is also a member of an elite group called "Gentlemen of His Holiness", ushers who are called to serve in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on major occasions such as when the Pope receives heads of state or presides at big events.

"Gentlemen of His Holiness" carried the coffin of the late Pope John Paul II at his funeral in 2005.

Excerpts of the wiretaps and police documents published in the Italian newspaper 'La Repubblica' showed that Mr Ehiem (40) had been in regular contact with Mr Balducci before Mr Balducci's arrest last month and the subject of their conversation was gay sex. A police document prepared for magistrates and published in part by 'La Repubblica' said Mr Balducci was in contact with Mr Ehiem and an Italian who were part of what the police called "an organised network ... to abet male prostitution". It was not immediately possible to contact Mr Ehiem's lawyer.

A Vatican source said Mr Balducci, who is still in jail, had been dismissed from the elite group of ushers and that his name would not appear in the next edition of the Vatican's directory.

"He obviously can't come back here after being accused of these things," the source said.

The latest black eye for the Vatican comes on the heels of major paedophilia scandals involving the abuse of children by priests in Ireland, Germany and the United States.

Mr Balducci's lawyer, Franco Coppi, one of Italy's highest profile attorneys, said he had no comment on the newest accusations against his client, saying: "We have much more serious things to be concerned with right now," referring to the corruption charges.

Mr Ehiem had sung in the choir for 19 years. Wiretap transcripts published by 'La Repubblica' showed that among the men Mr Ehiem allegedly procured for Balducci were seminarians.

Irish Independent

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