Pope sends special envoy to investigation 'black sheep' diocese

Allegations surrounding priests in north Italian region including sexual abuse, harassment and theft

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The Independent Online

A scandal-ridden Italian diocese where priests are alleged to have posted naked photographs of themselves on gay websites, sexually harassed parishioners and raided the church’s coffer will be investigated by Pope Francis’s special envoy.

Albenga-Imperia, in the north of Italy, will receive an “apostolic administrator” to assess the allegations laid against “the most gossiped about diocese in Italy” according to local news reports.

The Pope will reportedly send the administrator to determine the truth of charges - including hosting a string of ‘playboy priests’ moonlighting as barmen, stealing the church’s funds and getting tattooed, under the watchful eye of Bishop Mario Oliveri, 70, who has run the diocese for the last 25 years.

Although the bishop, a fervent traditionalists who once held a three-hour mass in Latin, is not accused of any wrongdoing, local newspaper Il Secolo XIX has reported the aging Bishop is expected to be replaced in the near future.

Bishop Oliveri has allegedly been overly forgiving when selecting his ‘black sheep’ recruits, accepting trainee priests expelled from seminaries for misconduct, including one who was discovered running an underage prostitution ring.

The diocese’s priests have also been accused of living with gay partners, posting naked photographs of themselves on gay websites and sexually harassing parishioners.

In one instance father Luciano Massaferro, a parish priest, was sentenced to almost eight years in prison having been found guilty of sexually abusing am altar boy. Bishop Oliveri continued to defend him during this period.

Appalled parishioners eventually brought the Vatican’s attention to their diocese by writing personally to Pope Francis.

Bishop Oliveri was approached by  La Repubblica about the investigation but said: “I don’t want to talk about it. This is not the right time.”

Vatican spokesperson Father Ciro Benedettini told the Daily Telegraph: “We never comment on these matters - they are confidential and it wouldn’t be correct”.

He added: “We would only issue a statement at the end of the investigation, if any decisions are taken.”

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