A Latin Expert’s Odyssey, From the Vatican to the Gay Rights Movement

He announced he would leave the priesthood altogether, and then spent four years, as he put it, in the wilderness. He had a “double coming out” to his parents, about leaving the priesthood and being gay, and they didn’t talk to him for years. He bumped into priests he knew at cruising spots and various bathhouses, including one in a building owned by the Vatican. He said he went to drug-fueled parties at the Abbey of Montecassino, which traces its roots back to St. Benedict. He earned some money with private lessons in Latin and religion and some initial reporting jobs, but he felt lost.

In 2013, a Cardinal delivered a letter from Mr. Lepore explaining his situation to the newly elected Pope Francis. In October, Mr. Lepore’s phone rang, with Francis telling him he admired him for his “consistency” and “courage” in not living a double life, and that he wanted to help him with his economic travails, according to Mr. Lepore.

(A Vatican spokesman did not return a call for comment.)

But except for an envelope with 2,000 euros, about $2,400, from another Cardinal (“a kindness”), no job ever materialized. Francis signed his dispensation papers in August 2014, removing him from the clerical state.

Free from the church, Mr. Lepore threw himself into activism for gay rights. In February 2019 he became the star witness of Frédéric Martel’s buzzy book “In the Closet of the Vatican,” where Mr. Lepore’s estimate that 80 percent of the Vatican staff are gay made a splash.

Later that year, Ivan Scalfarotto, a politician who is now an undersecretary in Italy’s Interior Ministry, told the new editor of Linkiesta about a guy who knew everything about the Vatican. The editor, Christian Rocca, was intrigued. Mr. Lepore sent him an article about the Vatican’s dim view of the suddenly pious turn of the nationalist leader Matteo Salvini. Mr. Rocca sent it to a Vatican official he knew who assured him it was spot on.

“I discovered this gem,” Mr. Rocca said.

Last year Mr. Rocca floated the idea of a daily column in Latin, which he admitted was not great for search engine optimization, but seemed like it might be fun.

“It seems like madness,” Mr. Lepore responded.

And then he immediately got to it.

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