Vatican! Drugs! Police! Gay clergy! Orgy! Clickbait! What happens next will not shock you

So here is a rather stupid question to ask news consumers in the age of social media and online news. Did you hear that there was apparently some kind of police raid on a drug-fueled gay orgy at one of the most prestigious addresses in Vatican City, an apartment building many call the Holy Office?

All kinds of people live there, but it also is known as home base for the Vatican's powerful -- in terms of working to promote traditional teachings -- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Combine this location with activity that fits years and years of rumors about a "gay lobby" at the highest levels of Catholic hierarchy and the odds are good that you will get a news-media firestorm.

Maybe you saw the story at The New York Daily News, since this is the kind of subject that has "tabloid" written all over it. The headline: "Vatican police raid drug-fueled gay orgy at top priest's apartment." Let's look at the top of this report.

Vatican police raided a drug-fueled gay sex party at a top priest’s apartment near the city, according to an Italian newspaper report.
The apartment’s occupant, who was not named by police, serves as a secretary to Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, a personal adviser to Pope Francis.
The apartment belongs to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith -- the branch that reviews appeals from clergy found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, according to Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, which first published the explosive report. Police raided the apartment in June after neighbors complained of unusual behavior among frequent nighttime visitors.
Police arrested the priest and hospitalized him to detox him from the drugs he had ingested, according to the newspaper. ... He’s currently in retreat at a convent in Italy, according to the report. Coccopalmerio’s aide was reportedly under consideration for promotion to bishop.

Now, you may not have seen the Daily News report. On newsstands in the Big Apple, that would have been sitting right next to The New York Post, proclaiming (it what is a rather restrained headline for this newspaper): "Vatican cops bust drug-fueled gay orgy at home of cardinal’s aide."

Let's face it. Readers had lots of opportunities to see a lurid headline about this case.

Online, maybe you saw the story at The Daily Beast. Or maybe it was in the International Business Times?

If you are on the other side of the pond, maybe you saw the story in the Mirror. Then again, maybe you saw it in The Daily Mail. The again, maybe it was in The Sun?

Among specialty websites, you might have seen it at LGBTQ Nation or a rainbow of similar addresses in cyberspace.

Obviously, I could go on. If you visit YouTube, you'll find about three pages of "reports" that are either people staring into their computer camera sharing their opinions or mere computer produced audio-visual collages (the ones with fake Ms. Darth Vader voices) that steal material from printed reports.

The point is that readers who actually care about this story are left in a journalistic hell that consists of flashy little stories that are based on the act of aggregating (rewriting, to some small degree) information from that one Italian newspaper, rather than independent reporting. Lots and lots and lots of "according to reports," "one newspaper said" or, at best, what we saw in that initial Daily News report -- an actual reference to Il Fatto Quotidiano.

Luckily, people who read Italian (or are willing to fool around with the Google translate function) can go read that report for themselves.

But we are left with one question: Obviously, there are lots of "reports" about this event, sort of. But is this a real story? How would readers know if there is some smoke here? For example, as best I can tell, the team at Crux has not addressed this subject. I would imagine that -- if and when Crux does so -- the pros there will have done their own reporting. Bravo.

Now, there is a long report on the website of the conservative National Catholic Register, one that provides all kinds of follow-up information and context. The sub-headline there sounds a cautious note:

Whatever the exact truth behind the lurid and disturbing story, it has further exposed such gravely sinful behavior taking place in the Vatican that one senior member of the curia says has “never been worse.”

Yes, the Register attempted its own follow-up work and the Vatican batted away the requests. Here is a typical passage in this long report, which consistently makes it clear to readers that Il Fatto Quotidiano is the source for key allegations:

The article’s author, Francesco Antonio Grana, says Pope Francis, whose Santa Marta residence is just 500 yards from the Holy Office, was aware of the raid and knew of the monsignor’s capture. Grana also points out that the main entrance to the Holy Office opens onto Italian territory and so is out of the control of the Swiss Guard and the Vatican police.
“Anyone, day and night, can enter the Vatican freely through this entrance without being subjected to any check,” Grana observed, adding that it made the Holy Office “a perfect location to enjoy the privileges of extraterritoriality without having to undergo checks of either the Italian State or those of Vatican City.” He also revealed that Cardinal Coccopalmerio had reportedly recommended, unsuccessfully, that the secretary be made a bishop.
The Vatican is refusing to discuss the lurid story. Laura Signore, secretary to the commander of the Vatican police, Domenico Giani, told the Register June 30 that “as usual” the police commander “cannot issue any kind of statement or interviews.”
She added that the article is “seriously lacking in truth” and recommended we contact the Holy See Press Office for further information.

However, the Register team would say the following (and note the connection to one rather infamous Pope Francis media soundbite):

The precise details of the reported events in the CDF therefore remain open to question, but the substance of the story appears to be true. ...
The Holy Office building, which today is also home to some religious sisters as well as the CDF, dates back to the 16th century. From 1908 to 1965, the CDF was officially known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office and its purpose was to "spread sound Catholic doctrine and defend those points of Christian tradition which seem in danger because of new and unacceptable doctrines.”
Since Benedict XVI’s pontificate, the Vatican dicastery has also been responsible for handling clerical sex abuse cases, although it should be stressed this scandal appears to have had nothing to do with the Congregation.
Pope Francis has addressed the issue of homosexuality in the Vatican before, and in particular the existence of a gay lobby. Returning from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013, he said he had yet to find “anyone who can give me a Vatican identity card with ‘gay’ [written on it]. They say they are there.”
After saying all lobbies are bad, he cited the Catechism’s teaching against marginalizing homosexual persons, saying, “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?”
Last year, Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, a close adviser to Pope Francis, acknowledged the presence of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican and said that “little by little the Pope is trying to purify it.”

So here is my final comment: Obviously, one reason there has been little reporting on this subject by UK and USA newspapers is that it would cost money to get a veteran reporter on the scene do do real, responsible digging. Real journalism costs real money, since one needs to hire real professionals to do it.

But aggregation costs nothing, right? It also leads to clicks and more clicks. Right?

Thus ends the lesson.

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