Argentine Cleric Caught on Tape
Bishop Juan Carlos Maccarone resigns after video of a sexual encounter with a young man surfaces church officials don't deny it happened but say he was set up
By Colin McMahon
August 25, 2005
BUENOS AIRES — Part morality play , part conspiracy tale and part soap opera, the resignation of a Roman Catholic bishop over his sexual encounter with a young man has Argentines both dismayed and riveted.
The scandal broke over the weekend with newspaper reports that the Vatican had received a copy of a videotape showing Juan Carlos Maccarone, 64, the bishop of the poor northern province of Santiago del Estero, having "intimate relations" with a 23-year-old chauffeur.
Now Maccarone and other church officials say the bishop was set up. They suspect Maccarone was targeted for his work on behalf of the poor and his opposition to the clan of a former governor who ran the province much like a private fiefdom for nearly 50 years.
"Everything points to . . . political revenge," said Rev. Guillermo Marco, a spokesman for the Buenos Aires archbishop.
The chauffeur, Alfredo Serrano, said he made the video to get back at Maccarone for failing to help his family and find the young man a good job.
At first Serrano said he was not paid for the cassette but then he said a television station had paid for it. He won't say how much. In various interviews with Argentine media, Serrano's versions also vary of how long he and Maccarone had been sexually involved, from a few years to as many as five.
Church and government officials said they found it suspicious the video was produced with advanced technology and distributed systematically.
"Sounds like it was put together by some intelligence arm," Marco told a radio station. Then to underline the sensitivity of the topic, Marco added that despite his role as the official spokesman for Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, in this case he was giving his opinion.
Last week church officials insisted "health problems" had forced Maccarone's resignation. But since the tape's existence was made public, no one is denying the tryst took place.
Serrano said he taped the encounter a few weeks ago, hiding the camera in a bag when he went to Maccarone's office. Serrano is naked in the tape. The bishop is mostly clothed.
Church officials did not say how the Vatican got the tape, a key question in the effort to find out who might have been behind the whole thing. But once Vatican authorities viewed the tape, it did not take them long to seek and accept Maccarone's resignation, sources told the Buenos Aires daily Clarin.
The scandal is a strong blow to the church's credibility, said Fortunato Mallimaci, a Buenos Aires sociologist who has written extensively about religion and Catholicism in Argentina.
"This means that the idea of the Catholic Church as the moral reference of the Catholic nation is very strongly put in doubt," Mallimaci said. "It shows that a double standard exists within the church itself."
The scandal further compromises the church's ability to shape society's views on issues of sexuality, Mallimaci said.
"This is not a church that speaks only on religion," he said. "It has a strong public presence. . . . So I hope this is going to open a debate about what is the political sphere of the Catholic Church."
Church officials dismiss suggestions that a fellow bishop might have been involved in Maccarone's downfall, even in delivering the tape to Vatican authorities. But Mallimaci and other observers say the scandal has at the very least exposed political and religious divisions within the church.
The poor of Maccarone's flock welcomed his work. But he made enemies among the rich, powerful and criminal of his province, and his progressive stances were said to irritate conservative bishops.
Argentina's council of bishops released a statement saying church leaders felt the "pain and confusion of our people." It praised Maccarone's six years as bishop of Santiago del Estero, particularly his service "to the poor and to those whose lives and faith were under threat."
"We accompany our brother with sympathy, understanding and prayer," the bishops said.
Meanwhile, Serrano said he was willing to tell the whole story and would entertain offers from a television network that was willing to pay for it.