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Culture

Priest Joins Cast of Italian 'Big Brother'

The debut of the fourth season of Big Brother in Italy, known there as “Grand Fratello,” is causing a stir. The producers have selected a priest to be among the 12 housemates, and the Vatican is not amused.

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The Big Brother container has long had a Sin City reputation.

The Italian version of the reality TV program "Big Brother," known locally as “Grand Fratello,” sticks to the same basic formula that has made the show an international phenomenon. A kooky mix of twelve housemates is selected to live in a studio-cum-communal house, where every waking moment -- and those spent in slumber -- is recorded and broadcast live over the television and the Internet. The contestants are prohibited access to the outside world, and to make things more interesting, every 15 days one is voted off by viewers and fellow housemates. So what’s not to love about that?

Of course, the colorful cast of “characters” and the clash of personalities has not left the show without its interesting moments -- or without scandal. Recently, a member of the U.S. cast was rumored to have been arrested for gluing her boyfriend’s penis to his leg with superglue. Call this a region-specific idiosyncrasy. Now the producers of the Italian version of Big Brother are upping the scandal factor: they have selected a priest to be among the housemates. The Vatican is not pleased.

An insult to his vocation

The identity of the priest, who has thus far only been described in press reports as a member of the Neopolitan diocese who is in his fourties, has not yet been confirmed.

Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, a representative of the church, has directed his outrage at the priest and the producers of the program, who he claims are attempting to pose a direct challenge to the church. “This is completely unacceptable and beyond a joke -- it’s a form of challenge to the Church by the program's makers.”

As for the priest in question, Tonini said, "it is irresponsible of him and an insult to his vocation. I strongly urge the priest’s local bishop to intervene at once and stop this spectacle.” Cardinal Tonini and other members of the church find several aspects of the program questionable, including the practice of “voting off” cast members, which, they fear, encourages the viewers to pass judgement. And the use of a so-called “confessional,” wherein cast members and speak directly to the audience, is frowned upon.

Publicity stunt for big ratings?

But with big ratings at stake, it is unlikely the show’s producers will be deterred by the Cardinal’s criticism. When the fourth season debuts on January 22nd with a man of the cloth – who sources close to the show have described as “very attractive” – luring in curious viewers, the show could draw even more than its traditional average of 15 million viewers.

Marco Liorni, the show’s presenter, thinks the addition of a priest will add a new dimension to the program: “It will open it up to more spiritual discussions and there will, therefore, be a whole new range of topics for them to all talk about.” With an air of secrecy surrounding the identity of the priest, viewers will have to tune in to find if the producers have really managed to convince him to play along, despite the church’s condemnation -- and if he’s really as cute as they say.

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