Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's new culture commissar, urged "the greatest caution" after announcing that Roman Catholic churches with few worshippers could be sold off.
He gave the example of a church in Hungary which was "transformed into a nightclub and where striptease took place on the altar."
The archbishop, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said dwindling numbers of worshippers at some churches meant it now made sense to sell, or even destroy, the buildings.
"Faced with falling number of worshippers, a phenomenon which we are also unfortunately witnessing in the centre of Rome, churches without any artistic value and which need significant work can be sold or destroyed," he told reporters.
Italian bishops' groups would be responsible for deciding whether the sites should be sold, said Ravasi, adding each case would be separately assessed.