Vatican denounces reporter's "shameful" confessional scoop

An Italian journalist who visited confessionals while posing as a HIV-positive man wanting to use condoms found that the advice of most priests varied from Church teaching but the Holy See has denounced the investigation as a sacrilegious search for a "shameful scoop".

Foxnews reports that Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano has denounced reporter Riccardo Bocca's story in L'Espresso magazine on 29 January, in which the reporter visited 24 confessionals - posing as an HIV-positive man who wanted to use condoms with his partner, a doctor with a cocaine habit and a divorcee finding love anew - to see how much the priests' advice varied from Roman Catholic teachings.

"Shame! There is no other word to express our distress toward an operation that was disgusting, worthless, disrespectful and particularly offensive," the Vatican's paper said in an editorial headlined "Fake confessions in search of a shameful scoop."

In his story for the magazine, Bocca visited confessionals in five Italian cities: Milan, Rome, Turin, Naples and Palermo and found that priests did deviate from Church law.

For example, two priests offered varied advice to Bocca when he said he was an HIV-positive man wondering if he should use a condom with his girlfriend.

One priest followed church teaching and told him not to use a condom, and the other, a priest in Turin, said it was a matter of conscience.

The UK Guardian adds that in another incident, the reporter claimed to have let a doctor switch off the respirator that kept her father alive.

"Don't think any more about it," she was told by a friar in Naples. "I myself, if I had a father, a wife or a child who had lived for years only because of artificial means, would pull out [the plug]."

Another journalist posed as a researcher who had received a lucrative offer to work abroad on embryonic stem cells. With the extra cash, he said, he and his wife could think about starting a family. So should he take up the post?

"Yes. Yes. Of course," came the reply.

According to the Catholic News Service, the Vatican newspaper found Bocca's article exploited the good faith of confessors and offended the religious sentiments of millions of people.

"It was a sacrilege, because it violated the sacred space in which a self-recognised sinner asks intimately to receive God's merciful love," it said.

Vatican Denounces Reporter Who Went Undercover in the Confessional (FoxNews, 31/1/07)
Survey exposes divide between Pope and priests (Guardian, 31/1/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
L'Espresso (Italian)

Pope says he's consoled by stories of apostles, disciples arguing (Catholic News Agency, 31/1/07)

1 Feb 2007