Italian investigators have opened an inquiry into claims by a convicted paedophile priest that an underage prostitution ring has been operating inside the Holy Roman Church with clergymen hiring rentboys for sex inside churches.
Don Patrizio Poggi, 46, told Italian authorities that a former Carabinieri pimped boys for nine clergymen.
Poggi, who served a five-year sentence for abusing teenage boys while he was a parish priest at the San Filippo Neri church in Rome, said he made the allegations to "protect the Holy Church and the Christian community."
The boys were chosen because they were starving and desperate, he claimed, according to Il Messaggero newspaper.
The former policeman used to recruit the boys, mostly eastern European immigrants, outside a gay bar named Twink near Rome's Termini train station. He reportedly sat in his Fiat Panda - marked "Emergency Blood" to avoid parking fines - to make his selection.
He was helped in the recruitment process by a friend who ran a modelling agency. He lured underage boys into prostitution through "false work offers for modelling and acting roles", Poggi said.
The agent also looked for rentboys at gay discos, saunas and gyms across Rome. An accountant was also said to be involved.
The boys were paid €150-€500 (£130-£425) to perform sex acts in church premises across the capital.
Poggi also accused the former Carabinieri of selling consecrated hosts for satanic rites.
Poggi reportedly presented documentary and photographic evidence to police in the company of two senior Vatican clergymen who vouched for his credibility.
Poggi identified the nine clergymen, including two senior church officials and a religion lecturer. Three people have been placed under formal investigation.
The allegations were rejected by the Vatican. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, head of the Catholic Vicariate of Rome, said the priest made false claims out of a desire for vengeance and personal resentment.
The Vatican refused to reinstate Poggi after he served his term.
"The cardinal expresses his full confidence in the magistracy and declares himself full convinced that this slander will be demolished, demonstrating Poggi's claims to be untrue," Vallini said.
"God will hold everyone accountable for their deeds."