Winner

Fools that we are, we thought it was impossible to top the inanity of Senator Larry Craig’s Wide Stance defense.

We thought no excuse could ever dim the otherworldly moonshine of Ted Haggard’s I Was Only Seeing a Male Escort To Buy Crystal Meth Which I Immediately Threw Away — So What’s the Big Deal?

But we were wrong — so wrong.

Never underestimate the power of the closet to spawn ever more brazen disclaimers and cover stories. Stand back you piddling senators, you glary-eyed pastors with manic grins, we have a real master coming through!

Let us set the scene. Fade in: Rome.

Brilliant sunlight floods a busy piazza. It is right in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, which looms over the square like the giant dome-capped head of the pope himself, who, of course, lives in one of the upper tiers. Around the square, which is not square at all but global in shape, are colonnades to either side, stretching around like embracing arms. St. Peter’s casts no shadow at this hour, for it is noontime and the piazza is filled with tourists, pigeons and priests. We pick out one in particular, a black-clad monsignor in a straight black hat making haste across our field of vision.

A young man meets his gaze, holds it.

He is a well-know Vatican spokesman who often goes on Italian TV and puts a friendly face to some of the pope’s increasingly bizarre pronouncements.

Hell is a real place, Pope Benedict recently required him to tell 21st Century viewers, with real fire that burns real skin over and over and over again. And tell them he did, looking straight at the camera with kindly old eyes, couching it all in the most cosmopolitan terms possible, that of their common heritage, the Caesars, the Vestals, the Greeks before them, a breathtaking tour de force of utter bullshit.

Of late the mongisnor is best known on the talk shows as an “expert” on family life and the holiness of the married state, though he himself, of course, is a lifelong celibate — or is he? A sudden downturn in the music seems to beg the question.

Now the mongsignor is scanning the piazza — somewhat furtively for the sake of our imaginary reenactment. He has a pleasant face at age 60, one would almost say a soft, simpering, sappy gayface if one were given to self-loathing alliteration like that.

A young man, sitting at an outdoor table, sipping a tiny cup of espresso, meets his gaze. He is a handsome young Italian with a vaguely familiar face, but then so many Roman men are handsome in just this civilized way, with all their features in harmony around a strong noble nose. Lush lower lip, upper lip a bit like a valentine. The young man is not only meeting the monsignor’s gaze, he is holding it.

The good father approaches…