Following several recent scandals, it has now emerged that the Catholic church has bought a €23 million (£21 million) share of an apartment block in Rome which houses the biggest gay sauna in Europe.

Just a day ahead of the papal conclave to elect the next Pope, this latest development has caused embarrassment to senior Vatican figure Cardinal Ivan Dias, who stays in a 12-room apartment on the first floor of the building, just above the ground-floor entrance to the sauna.

The 76-year-old is due to take part in the election at the Sistine Chapel tomorrow, but has been left red-faced following the revelation that the entrance to his apartment is just yards from the entrance to Europe’s biggest gay sauna, Europa Multiclub.

As well as Dias, who is widely considered particularly conservative, there are 18 other apartments in the block, many of which house priests.

An Independent report questioned whether the former archbishop of Bombay may have offered spiritual guidance to attendees of the sauna, given that in the past he has said that gay and lesbian people can be “cured” of their “unnatural tendencies” through the “sacrament of penance”.

Since resigning on 28 February, Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica published an article claiming that Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to quit was in part finalised by a Vatican report showing that the Holy See was affected by outside influences, including a “gay lobby”.

La Repubblica newspaper has now noted that the presence of “Italy’s best known gay sauna in the premises [as] an embarrassment”.

In other embarrassment for the church, in a statement issued by the Catholic church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien addressed allegations made against him by five priests within the church, and admitted that his “sexual conduct” has been “below the standards expected” of him.

The sauna’s website promotes a bear night, with a video in which a man strips down before changing into a priest’s outfit. It says Bruno, “a hairy, overweight pastor of souls, is free to the music of his clergyman, remaining in a thong, because he wants to expose body and soul”.

Readers on Italian gay websites made jokes at the cardinal’s expense. One person said: “’Oops, I took the wrong door, I thought it was the chapel.’…If you can’t go to the gay sauna for fear of being seen what do you do if you have millions of Euros stolen from Italians? You buy the apartment block with the sauna inside.”

The purchase of 2 Via Carduccio reportedly went through in 2008.