The Pope has shut down a 500-year-old Rome monastery and kicked out its monks after it gained notoriety for hosting a performance by a lap dancer-turned-nun and welcomed celebrities such as Madonna.
Benedict XVI ordered the closure of the monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Santa Croce in Gerusalemmme), which holds some of the Roman Catholic Church's most prized relics, because of "financial and liturgical irregularities", a Vatican spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.
Around 20 Cistercian monks will be transferred to other monasteries around Italy, after it was found that their "lifestyles" were "not in keeping" with Church doctrine, bringing to an end a monastic presence on the site that dates back five centuries.
They reportedly demonstrated "questionable behaviour and a lack of moral discipline" – a possible allusion to homosexual relations, which the Church regards as a sin...
...Madonna visited the church when she was in Rome in 2008 to perform a concert, meditating in front of its ornate relics – two thorns purportedly taken from Christ's crown, fragments of the cross on which he was crucified, a nail used in the crucifixion and a bone from the finger of St Thomas, which the doubting apostle is said to have poked into Jesus's wounds.
In 2009 Anna Nobili, who spent years working as an exotic dancer and striptease artist in night clubs before becoming a nun, performed a religious dance in front of an audience of cardinals and bishops, twirling around a wooden crucifix.
Calling herself a "ballerina for God", she swapped her thongs and high heels for a nun's habit after being "reborn" by her new-found faith in God and based her unusual form of choreography on stories from the Bible.
The monastery also earned the ire of the Vatican by straying from orthodox liturgical practices and by allegedly getting into financial difficulties with a gift shop which sold honey, jams and organic fruit and vegetables produced by the monks.
The Pope ordered an official investigation, known as an Apostolic Visit, into the monastery in central Rome...
...Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, said the monks had been guilty of "financial irregularities and liturgical abuses".
"Their lifestyles were not in keeping with what one would expect of monks," he said. It was very rare for the Pope to order the closure of a monastery, he added.
The Vatican also took a dim view of the fact that the church had become a favoured meeting place for a group of aristocrats, the Friends of the Holy Cross, which was led by an Italian marquis who is descended from Charlemagne.
According to Tom Kington of The Guardian on May 25, 2011:
The monks' days have been numbered since 2009, when the Vatican sacked their flamboyant abbot, Father Simone Fioraso, a former fashion designer who built up a cult following among Rome's fashionable aristocratic crowd as well as show business worshippers such as Madonna, who prayed at the church in 2008...
...The monks living there now had opened a shop selling organic produce from their kitchen garden, but this was shut down in 2009 amid accusations of their having secretly stocked the shelves from a neighbourhood grocery.
The Italian newspaper La Stampa said that VIP guests were also encouraged to stay at a hotel opened at the Santa Croce monastery which offered a 24-hour limousine airport service.
In 2008 Fioraso hosted a week-long, televised, reading of the bible with religious figures, politicians and celebrities reading tracts, starting with Pope Benedict himself. But a year later Fioraso was ousted, despite protests from parishioners who defended his "patience, dedication, sacrifice and passion".
The Vatican's removal of the monks to other monasteries, ending their 500-year presence at the basilica, follows Benedict's hard line with other wayward orders, including the Legionaries of Christ, run by the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, who fathered numerous children, was disciplined over sexual abuse allegations and was banished to a life of penitence.
The basilica was supported by the Friends of Santa Croce, a who's who of Roman society run by a Italian claiming descent from Charlemagne.
Italian press reports have speculated that the inspectors from the Vatican suspected homosexual relations between monks at the monastery.
Sexual immorality in monasteries is a tradition going back centuries, as Peter De Rosa showed in his book Vicars of Christ (1988).