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Vatican crackdown at Rome's Playboy Mansion-style monastery

Lapdancing nuns, 'lifestyle irregularities' uncovered

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A controversial monastery in Rome – the scene of performances by lap-dancing nuns and "lifestyles that were probably not in keeping with that of a monk" – has been closed down on the orders of the Pope.

The Santa Croce in Gerusalemme basilica, home to nuns and monks of the Cistercian order, is one of the oldest and most prestigious complexes of the Catholic Church and dates from the 4th century. It is thought to house important relics from the Holy Land. However in modern times it had been allowed to fall into disrepair.

That all changed some years ago when a new and flamboyant abbot, former Milan fashion designer Father Simone Fioraso, took charge. He renovated the buildings and opened a luxury hotel at the site, which reportedly became a popular haunt for celebrities and Italian aristocrats, and held high-profile events including regular concerts and a televised Bible-reading marathon.

A major attraction of the basilica was apparently the "holy dances" performed by the nun Sister Anna Nobili, a former lap-dancer, and other nuns taught by her. Nobili's routines reportedly featured her lying spread-eagled before an altar clutching a crucifix, or undulating passionately in the fashion of a pole dancer.

The saucy Sister has reportedly performed for many high-ranking church dignitaries including Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Vatican cultural department. Other patrons of Santa Croce have included Madonna, who prayed there in 2008.

The monks of Santa Croce have been in trouble with the Supreme Pontiff since 2009, when Father Fioraso was busted from his position as abbot (and presumably despatched to a hardship posting on a remote island off the Irish coast). Investigators from the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life moved in, and delivered their sealed report in March – one so sizzling that it will never be released to the public.

The Vatican has now confirmed that the monks and nuns will all be transferred to other posts and that Santa Croce will now operate solely as an ordinary church, not a monastery.

The enquiry "found evidence of liturgical and financial irregularities as well as lifestyles that were probably not in keeping with that of a monk," Father Ciro Benedettini told the Guardian. There's also BBC coverage here. ®

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