By Philip Pullella
Thursday, March 4, 2010; 7:49 AM
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – One of Pope Benedict’s ceremonial ushers and a member of an elite choir in St Peter’s Basilica have been implicated in a gay prostitution ring, in the latest sexual scandal to taint the Vatican.
Ghinedu Ehiem, a Nigerian, was dismissed by the Vatican on Wednesday from the Giulia Choir after his name appeared in transcripts of police wiretaps, published by an Italian newspaper, in an unrelated Italian investigation.
The wiretaps were carried out in connection with a probe into corruption in contracts to build public works, including the planned venue in Sardinia of last year’s G8 summit. The summit was eventually moved to the Abruzzo region as part of efforts to help it recover from an earthquake.
Among four people arrested last month in the corruption probe was Angelo Balducci, a engineer who is a board member of Italy’s public works department and a construction consultant to the Vatican. Balducci was arrested on corruption charges and the allegations of prostitution emerged only later.
Balducci is also a member of an elite group called “Gentlemen of His Holiness,” ushers who are called to serve in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on major occasions such as when the pope receives heads of state or presides at big events.
“Gentlemen of His Holiness” carried the coffin of the late Pope John Paul at his funeral in 2005.
Excerpts of the wiretaps and police documents published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica showed that Ehiem, 40, had been in regular contact with Balducci before Balducci’s arrest last month and the subject of their conversation was gay sex.
A police document prepared for magistrates and published in part by La Repubblica said Balducci was in contact with Ehiem and an Italian who were part of what the police called “an organized network … to abet male prostitution.”
It was not immediately possible to contact Ehiem’s lawyer.
A Vatican source said Balducci, who is still in jail, has been dismissed from the elite group of ushers and that his name would not appear in the next edition of the Vatican’s directory.
“He obviously can’t come back here after being accused of these things,” the source said.
The latest black eye for the Vatican comes on the heels of major pedophilia scandals involving the abuse of children by priests in Ireland, Germany and the United States.
Balducci’s lawyer, Franco Coppi, one of Italy’s highest profile attorneys, told Reuters he had no comment on the newest accusations against his client, saying: “We have much more serious things to be concerned with right now,” referring to the corruption charges.
When the Vatican announced that Ehiem was dismissed from the Basilica’s choir, which was founded in the sixth century, it stressed that he was not a priest but a lay member of the group. He had sung in the choir for 19 years.
The Giulia Choir sings in St Peter’s at events when the pope is not present. The Sistine Choir sings when he is.
Wiretap transcripts published by La Repubblica showed that among the men Ehiem allegedly procured for Balducci were seminarians. In one, Balducci is quoted as asking Ehiem: “At what time does he have to return to the seminary?”
Apart from being a “Gentleman of His Holiness,” Balducci is listed in the Vatican’s directory as a consultant to a Vatican department that deals with missions and had close contacts with the Vatican during planning for events for the year 2000, when millions of pilgrims came to Rome for a special Holy Year.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)