The scandal has rocked the Catholic church, with three other clergymen said to have participated in the sex parties in northern Italy.
Don Andrea Contin, priest of a small church in Padua, is accused of organizing orgies, having as many as 30 lovers, and taking trips with them to a naturist swingers' resort in France. He reportedly lived a double life, taking the women to expensive restaurants where he posed as a lawyer.
“He always carried a briefcase full of vibrators, sex toys, masks and bondage equipment,” one of his accusers said in her police statement, according to the Corriere del Veneto. She also claimed that the priest encouraged her to have sexual intercourse with a horse, and beat her in the rectory on two occasions.
The police investigation into Contin, who is accused of psychological and physical assault and facilitating prostitution, is ongoing, but on Thursday Padua's bishop, Claudio Cipolla said Contin would likely lose his job regardless of the outcome.
“I am incredulous and pained by the accusations,” Cipolla told a press conference, likening his position to that of “a father of a son who has fallen into disgrace”.
“Even if, at the end of this affair, there are no legal consequences, we have a duty by canon law to take disciplinary action.”
He said this decision was not down to “media furore” – which has seen details of the orgies splashed across tabloids around the world – but was the result of “direct investigation and verification that these events mean Don Contin is not fit to carry out his mission [of priesthood]”, even if he repents.
Police opened the investigation into Contin in early December, following complaints from three women claiming to be his lovers. At first, Contin denied the claims, only confessing after a search of his house at the end of the month uncovered video evidence of the orgies on computers and memory sticks, Il Gazzettino reported.
Bishop Cipolla described Contin's actions as “unacceptable for a priest, for a Christian and even for a man.” He noted that Christianity teaches respect for others, and that Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy, something he said is done “at an adult age, when we have control of our choices, in order to best serve our communities.”
Another priest, who has been named as Don Cavazzana and admitting to taking part in and occasionally filming the sex parties, is however unlikely to face suspension from the church.
Cipolla said the church did not yet have “sufficient elements” to reach a decision on his future, but said that Cavazzana's was “a different case” because “his involvement was only partial and occasional – though not acceptable for a priest”.
An independent church commission will evaluate “observations and reports about the behaviour of priests, members of the clergy, deacons in general”, Cipolla told the press conference.
The commission will spend about a year assessing the incident, and will have a dedicated phone number and email address for those who want to come forward with information anonymously.
Cipolla added that he had been in contact with Pope Francis about the affair, who had told him to “be strong” in dealing with the saga.