PERUGIA, Italy (ChurchMilitant.com) - Italian paramilitary police have arrested a priest for "aggravated child prostitution" after electronic surveillance generated evidence of the homosexual cleric soliciting sex from underage boys "on a daily basis."
Father Vincenzo Esposito, parish priest of San Feliciano in Magione, Perugia, over a hundred miles north of Rome, used digital phone applications like WhatsApp or Messenger to make sexual video calls to male minors from Termini Imerese and neighboring areas.
The arrest has embarrassed the Conference of Italian Bishops (CEI) as its pro-gay president, Cdl. Gualtiero Bassetti, is also Esposito's archbishop, a confidant of Pope Francis, and "widely seen as a prelate cut from the same cloth as the present pontiff."
The precautionary custody order issued Tuesday by investigating judge Fabio Pilato also ordered the house arrest of a 50-year-old mother who acted as the priest's pimp and offered her 17-year-old son for virtual sex with Esposito in exchange for money.
The priest used money from the parishioners' offerings to pay for gay sex with boys, carrying out a "perverse modus operandi" in "total disregard of the principles of ethics and religiosity that should inspire his behavior," Judge Pilato said.
Esposito's arrest comes days after top U.S. cleric and former director of apostolic formation at the Pontifical North American College in Rome Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill resigned after he was outed for using the gay hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis from 2018–2020.
Investigations also revealed Grindr signals from at least 32 mobile devices within the Vatican's secured areas as well as over a dozen mobile phones using sex hookup apps like Badoo and Skout.
Child protection activists have raised concerns of the apps being used to solicit minors, but LGBTQ+ activists, including Jesuit Fr. James Martin, have raised parallel concerns of the use of digital surveillance, clergy privacy and conflating homosexuality with child sex abuse.
Italian Carabinieri used digital surveillance and telephone intercepts to tap into sexual video calls during which Esposito would ask the boys to perform acts of self-eroticism in exchange for cash, transferred electronically to the Italian Post's Postepay top-up cards.
"Proof that sexual services were performed upon payment to minors for cash or other benefits emerges from the explicit, clear, and non-cryptic content of the conversations captured with the victims and from bank investigations," Judge Pilato said.
The priest "was able to set up a psychological game of addiction, and also of affection," says the judge, "by inducing the boys into temptation with financial rewards, and thus taking advantage of humble origins and the situation of need."
Pilato revealed that Esposito, "despite being pleased with the video with sexual content received" by the 17-year-old boy, "demands a second video of identical content where it is also possible to see the face of the minor at the moment of orgasm."
"Send me one where you can see your face while you enjoy ... what I really like," Esposito is telling the young man. The boy appears reluctant, to which the priest replies by reminding the victim that he had already sent him money in the past.
"Father, you must say a word to me, 'yes' or 'no,'" the boy insists. Esposito responds: "I told you now … let's see … I'll send you 10 euro with A., OK?" The minor replies: "OK. All in exchange for sex via chat and video."
Police are investigating details of at least four boys with whom the priest may have had sexual relations in exchange for cash and say there may be more victims.
Esposito's archdiocese of Perugia-Città della Pieve released a statement expressing "amazement and pain of the news" and said it would "ensure complete availability to collaborate with the judicial authority to arrive at the truth of the facts."
Cardinal Bassetti says he is "deeply saddened" and "expresses his closeness, human and spiritual, to the parish community of San Feliciano and in particular to all those involved in the affair."
Esposito, who is currently being held at the Spoleto prison in Perugia, said he is innocent. "I know the boy very well. Obviously, I am amazed," he insisted.
The priest's lawyer, Renato Vazzana, said that he had spoken to Esposito during the arrest and "found him very serene, albeit embittered. He is very aggressive. Tomorrow in the interrogation he will contest all the charges."
Despite LGBTQ+ activists denying links between homosexual clergy and the sexual abuse of male minors, the 2004 John Jay study found that over 80% of clerical sex abuse victims since 1950 were young men and not pre-pubescent children.
A 2018 study by Fr. D. Paul Sullins of The Catholic University of America concluded that the number of sex abuse cases increased beginning in the 1960s in direct proportion to the percentage of homosexuals in the episcopacy, priesthood and seminaries.
The Gay Report, a study by gay activists Karla Jay and Allen Young, acknowledged that "73% of homosexuals acknowledged having preyed on adolescents or younger boys."