Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 6 News List

The `sex priest' stuns Argentina and titillates it

THE OBSERVER , BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

They used to call him the "Click Priest," because he was best known for signing off the programming on an Argentine TV station each night.

But Friar Jose Mariani has now become Argentina's "Sex Priest" following the publication of a book of racy memoirs that is on track to become a global publishing phenomenon.

In Unrestrained, the Life of a Priest, 77-year-old Mariani tells of his sexual exploits, with both women and men, sometimes in lurid detail: "She put her arms around my neck and asked: `Do you like the drink?' Then she leaned over me and sucked on my lips, asking: `And don't you like this even more?'"

The initial run of 2,000 copies was snatched off the shelves in the first week of publication.

"I am printing 14,000 new copies to meet the demand," said publisher Moises Sternberg.

But, far from antagonizing the faithful, Mariani has received almost universal praise from his flock in the Villa Belgrano neighborhood of the city of Cordoba. "This country has to fight against hypocrisy,?" said the mayor, Luis Juez, after attending a mass given by Mariani, during which the priest was cheered and applauded by supporters.

"I challenge any member of the church who claims to have lived correctly to open up his life the way I have done," Mariani said from his pulpit.

"I don't regret anything. I'm ready to have my head cut off," he said.

The Catholic hierarchy is puzzled over how to react. Cordoba's archbishop, Carlos Nanez, said he will await the decision of a church tribunal before deciding whether to remove Mariani from his parish. "I am deeply grieved by the confusion and perplexity he has caused many people," said the archbishop.

The book is a stinging personal condemnation of the institution of celibacy in the Catholic church. Mariani recalls his first love after taking the vow of celibacy in 1951, with a young woman identified only as `B.' Mariani fell in love with her while hearing her confession. The affair ended when the young woman's family found out about it and sent her away.

Why did Mariani decide to throw himself into the public glare with his revelations? "I believe that the number of cases of sexual abuse that we have been hearing about recently would be reduced substantially if the church would deal with this issue openly," he said.

He says he does not know how long he will be allowed to stay on as parish priest in Villa Belgrano, saying only: "I intend to stay here until I can't stay here any longer."

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