Up to 100 priests in Italy were blackmailed by two men who used Facebook and Messenger to snare them, according to a police investigation.
The men, who were arrested on suspicion of blackmail on 26 July, demanded up to €10,000 (£8,000) from priests in return for keeping quiet about erotic webcam sessions and real sexual encounters, reported Italian weekly Panorama citing judicial sources.
After seizing contact lists and records of virtual sex sessions from the house shared by the men, Diego Maria Caggiano, 35, and Giuseppe Trementino, 30, police believe the priests targeted were sharing details of potential sexual partners through a private internet forum.
Trementino has told investigators that he began to have sexual relations with a priest after a chance meeting last year while he was working for a courier company in the southern region of Molise.
The priest paid Trementino regular sums of money and bought him a car but eventually reported him to the police.
In the meantime, Trementino said a second priest contacted him through Facebook and invited him to spend three days in a hotel in Rome with him, offering him a train fare and €300 to buy cannabis, alcohol and condoms.
Trementino claims he then began to receive requests for erotic webcam sessions from "tens" of priests. He added: "I would get up to five requests a day from all over Italy, even one from France. I felt I had ended up in a net of perversion."
Police suspect Caggiano, Trementino's housemate, of demanding up to €10,000 from the priests for their silence, with one sending €7,000.
Contacted by police, the priest said he put the money together from donations from parishioners whose houses he had blessed and by cutting back on the economic assistance he provided to the local poor.
The Vatican officially regards homosexual sex as a sin.
Last year, a book published in Italy, Sex and the Vatican, accused the Vatican of turning a blind eye towards priests who frequent gay clubs in Rome.