Thursday, March 21, 2019

In the Closet of the Vatican – a Review

His Eminence, Raymond Leo
Cardinal Burke
The Catholic Church is certainly the organisation that talks most about the truth. The word is always on its lips. It is forever brandishing “truth” around. And at the same time it is an organisation more given to lying than any other in the world. The spokesman for John Paul II, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, and the spokesman for Benedict XVI, Federico Lombardi, never tell the truth.
Robert Mickens, American Vaticanologist and editor-in-chief of Global Pulse. Resident in Rome since 1986, Mickens studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University before working 11 years at Vatican Radio and then another decade as correspondent for The Tablet of London. source

The Roman Catholic hierarchy is made up mostly of homosexual men. Estimates are as high as 80%.

That's the premise of Frédéric Martel’s bombshell, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy, which came out a few weeks ago to predictably universal condemnation by the Catholic Church. Timed, surely intentionally, to appear just as more than 200 men of the church are meeting in the Vatican to address the child abuse problem.  It’s a full-frontal attack on the church’s hypocrisy, a tell-all that names names and holds little back. 

Predictably, there have been efforts to soften the impact. The National Catholic Register’s Jennifer Roback Morse, for example, takes only three sentences to report that the book has “dropped out of sight.” That’s wishful thinking on Ms. Morse’s part. It’s far more likely there are miles to go yet before the ruckus settles down, and when it does it will not be because the book is roundly rejected by its readers, but because it reaches the kind of conclusions about which they are likely to say, “I could have told you that!” or “Wasn’t that obvious all along?”

And what exactly is the ruckus? After interviewing 41 cardinals, 50 bishops, 45 Vatican ambassadors and 11 Swiss Guards over a four-year period, Martel charges that the Roman Catholic Church is riddled with homosexually-inclined clerics hypocritically committed to the principle, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

More specifically, Martel’s main claims may be found in summary form, in his own words, in his “fourteen rules of the closet”:

  1. For a long time the priesthood was the ideal escape-route for young homosexuals. Homosexuality is one of the keys to their vocation. (p. 8)
  2. Homosexuality spreads the closer one gets to the holy of holies; there are more and more homosexuals as one rises through the Catholic hierarchy. In the College of Cardinals and at the Vatican, the preferential selection process is said to be perfected; homosexuality becomes the rule, heterosexuality the exception. (p. 10)
  3. The more vehemently opposed a cleric is to gays, the stronger his homophobic obsession, the more likely it is that he is insincere, and that his vehemence conceals something. (p. 34)
  4. The more pro-gay a cleric is, the less likely he is to be gay; the more homophobic a cleric is, the more likely he is to be homosexual. (p. 41)
  5. Rumours, gossip, settling of scores, revenge and sexual harassment are rife in the holy see. The gay question is one of the mainsprings of these plots. (pp. 59-60)
  6. Behind the majority of cases of sexual abuse there are priests and bishops who have protected the aggressors because of their own homosexuality and out of fear that it might be revealed in the event of a scandal. The culture of secrecy that was needed to maintain silence about the high prevalence of homosexuality in the Church has allowed sexual abuse to be hidden and predators to act. (p. 92)
  7. The most gay-friendly cardinals, bishops and priests, the ones who talk little about the homosexual question, are generally heterosexual. (p. 123)
  8. In prostitution in Rome between priests and Arab escorts, two sexual poverties come together: the profound sexual frustration of Catholic priests is echoed in the constraints of Islam, which make heterosexual acts outside of marriage difficult for a young Muslim. (p. 129)
  9. The homophiles of the Vatican generally move from chastity towards homosexuality; homosexuals never go into reverse gear and become homophilic. (p. 169)
  10. Homosexual priests and theologians are much more inclined to impose priestly celibacy than their heterosexual co-religionists. They are very concerned to have this vow of chastity respected, even though it is intrinsically against nature. (pp. 176-177)
  11. Most nuncios are homosexual, but their diplomacy is essentially homophobic. They are denouncing what they are themselves. As for cardinals, bishops and priests, the more they travel, the more suspect they are! (p. 311)
  12. Rumours peddled about the homosexuality of a cardinal or a prelate are often leaked by homosexuals, themselves closeted, attacking their liberal opponents. They are essential weapons used in the Vatican against gays by gays. (p. 388)
  13. Do not ask who the companions of cardinals and bishops are; ask their secretaries, their assistants or their protégés. (p. 537)
  14. We are often mistaken about the loves of priests, and about the number of people with whom they have liaisons: when we wrongly interpret friendships as liaisons, which is an error by addition; but also when we fail to imagine friendships as liaisons, which is another kind of error, this time by subtraction. (p. 538)
All page numbers refer to: Martel, Frédéric, In the Closet of the Vatican, Bloomsbury Publishing, Kindle Edition.
Martel thumbs his nose at those who would take him down for being insufficiently academic or professional. I can’t speak for the French original, but in the English language version of his book, he has a ball flinging wild accusations around. Referring to the current pope and his place among a coterie of homosexual cardinals, bishops and priests, Martel writes “Francis is said to be ‘among the wolves.’  It’s not quite true. He’s among the queens.” (p. xiv)

The thing is, to fault it for being more tabloid than academic research, more gossip-centered than objective, is to miss the point. Martel wrote the book to lay the charge that what’s wrong with the church is that it is built on a foundation of deception, and that deception is nowhere as apparent as in its approach to homosexuality. What’s wrong is not who’s “secretly gay” (although he does out an unusually large number of individuals, justly or unjustly), but the fact, he claims, that the overwhelmingly large percentage of homosexual and homophilic clergy lining up behind Benedict’s charge that homosexuality is an “objective moral disorder,” are at the same time giving free rein to a homophilic (read: effeminate) sensibility and in many cases actually engaging in homosexual activity. I reviewed Catholic theologian David Berger's book, The Holy Illusion, when it came out in 2011. He made essentially the same charges: that the culture of the church was based on deception, and the number of homosexually inclined men was much larger than anybody imagined.  Berger put it at 50%.  See also here.
Now along comes Frederic Martel. He cites a source who puts it at 80%.

After all is said and done, though, after all these clerics are “exposed” as homosexuals, there is still a big question that begs an answer: “What difference does it make?” Once you’ve exposed hypocrites, or - to show a bit of generosity here - once you’ve exposed what the church identifies as a sinner, why should anybody care? Aren’t we all sinners, according to standard Christian theology?

There are at least two good answers to that question, two good reasons why it does matter. One is that it reveals the true colors of what is not just a corrupt organization (i.e., one based on deceit), but a sinister one. The harm done to minds young and old (especially the young, in my view) by propagating the lie that homosexuality is “inherently disordered,” is incalculable. That this evil should be propagated by men who then embrace it in practice should be made public, so it can be more broadly recognized, condemned, and discarded as a bigotry masquerading as a public good. It is time people stopped hiding behind homophobia as “the ‘biblical’ perspective,” and recognize what the modern world has come around to accepting as nothing other than variation in the human condition.

The second reason is, as Martel argues, that the child abuse scandal that shocked the world when it turned up in virtually every Roman Catholic diocese in the world, is an issue almost certain to be directly related.  There is a connection between hidden homosexuality and the child abuse scandal. Not the one the church would like us to believe – that homosexuality leads to child abuse – but because there is something inherently wrong with what James Alison, in the best review of In the Closet of the Vatican I’ve read to date, refers to as “badly lived homosexuality.”  

Most of the focus of now decades of sexual abuse within the church has been on the behavior of an individual adult here and there exercising his power over young people and making them do things sexually which, in some cases, leaves life-long psychological scars. But gradually it has become clear that the arguably more severe crime is the one perpetrated by the institution. By shifting these sexually underdeveloped men around so they remain free to prey on young boys in new locations, the church has served as an enabler of these abuses rather than the cavalry that should have ridden in to save the day.

What of the notion, however, that perhaps we are too quick to condemn the enabler-bishops for failing to care what happens to the abused kids? Should we not also recognize that the bishops are showing care and compassion to their brother-priests?  Are they not also in terrible need of sympathy and understanding? Could we not recognize that they are not monsters and that they are just trying to calm things down?  Is that not a motivation worthy of respect?

Don't forget that the current view from the top is that sex abusers of young boys are homosexuals who lack the will to keep their sexual urges in check. See here for one notable example. Or Cardinal Bertone, longtime Number 2 man in the Vatican, Camerlengo and Secretary of State (p. 465), for another. Never mind that this is a bogus argument, since most gay men do not abuse children and many child abusers abuse little girls, as well. It is the party line argument coming from the top. If that is the case, if you are going to argue that a homosexual nature is the problem, consider what that does to your own psyche if you are struggling with homosexual demons (as you see it) yourself.  When you look at a child abuser you might well consider, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” From there you’re well on your way to the mindset that suggests the best course of action might be to hide the wrong-doing. Compassion comes easily if you can put yourself in another's position.

On top of that, there are, of course, the practical implications of exposure. Look at the likely consequences of turning up the volume and calling more attention to the scandal. People are certain to come in with probing questions. How can one expect them not to want to have a look inside your closet? Give the investigators and inch and they are certain to take a mile.

“Why do the cardinals say nothing?” Martel asks. “Why do they all close their eyes?”

Why was Pope Benedict XVI, who knew about many sexual scandals, never brought to justice? Why did Cardinal Bertone, ruined by the attacks of Angelo Sodano, not bring out the files that he had about his enemy? Talking about others means that they may talk about you. That is the key to the omertà and the general lies of the Church. The Vatican and the Vatican closet are like Fight Club – and the first rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club.  (pp. 466-467)

National Catholic Register’s Jennifer Morse first criticizes the inadequacies of Martel's claims and then asks what Martel thinks he’s after in exposing hypocrisy, anyway. Which is kind of like saying, “When I returned your teapot it was unbroken” and “besides, it was already broken when you lent it to me.” Clearly disturbed by criticism of the church, she claims that Martel’s book is full of gossip and unsubstantiated charges – but at the same time insists the proper way of dealing with hypocrisy is to follow the church’s teaching and everybody go back to following their vows of chastity. Tell that to the 4% of all priests the widely respected John Jay 2004 study concluded had had sex with minors. 

In brushing aside the charge that the Martel’s book is "just gossip" I can't deny there's a lot of stuff Martel expects us to take his word for. As with any sensitive subject, people frequently don't want to go on the record and not all his claims are documented. Much may be gossip, in fact. But much is not, and is substantiated with names and times and places. Moreover, one needs to recognize that the writing style is actually largely irrelevant. What matters in the end is the cumulative effect of the sheer number of examples Martel puts forth, page after page after page, all illustrating what it means to "live homosexuality badly," to live a life of deceit while attempting to assume a position of moral authority. 

In the 557 pages of In the Closet of the Vatican, there is some pretty good sociology, and a bit of pretty decent history, as well. Most readers even slightly familiar with modern church history know the name, Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ who not only fathered six children, but abused two of them sexually, as well. But what about Alfonso López Trujillo, whom Martel charges with beating up the prostitutes he has sex with and with being the reason so many liberal clerics met their death at the hands of thugs in the 1970s? And the flaunting of wealth by the likes of Cardinals Burke and Sodano, to name just two; the rivalries between cardinals; the drug-filled parties in a Vatican apartment with male prostitutes – is that gossip? Or is it history? If you pursue some of the people Martel names, it turns out they pan out. Check out here for an article on Monsignor Luigi Capozzi, for example.

Dozens of entertaining anecdotes fill Martel’s pages. Some will have you howling, like the one about Ratzinger-friend Tony Anatrella, whom Ratzinger/Benedict brought in to eliminate homosexuality from the seminaries. Anatrella’s solution? Reparatory therapy in which the young seminarians undress and allow Father Tony to masturbate them. 

Bill Lindsey has done a running commentary that is very much worth following on his Bilgrimage blog, capturing many of the twists and turns in the Vatican history which Martel has managed to detail.

So nobody can argue about the quantity. The stories go on and on. The Irish Times speaks of “incredible detail” But what about the quality?   The National Catholic Reporter claims there is “not much substance.”  Not everybody agrees. Addressing the “gossipy” nature of the book, Andrew Sullivan uses what Martel has to say about his interaction with Francesco Lepore, to defend Martel’s integrity as a journalist. Lepore, he says,

soared through the ranks, directly serving Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, until, as a gay man, he found a way to quit his post because he couldn’t abide the double life he was forced to lead, or the rancid hypocrisy of the whole system. He says he saw everything from the inside: “He has had several lovers among archbishops and prelates; he has been propositioned by a number of cardinals, whom we discuss: an endless list. I have scrupulously checked all of those stories, making contact myself with those cardinals, archbishops, monsignori, nuncios, assistants, ordinary priests or confessors at St Peter’s, all basically homosexual.” This is not the peddling of innuendo, or salacious gossip. It’s reporting.

“In my view,” Sullivan concludes, “the last drops of moral authority the Vatican might hope to have evaporate with this book.” I differ with Sullivan. I think it lost it some time ago. Martel is simply providing an updated explanation.

In the end, I doubt In the Closet of the Vatican is destined for weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s far too dense, too long, too repetitive, and I’m pretty sure too esoterically catholic for most people. My hope is that whether it is widely read or not, the response to its publication will be to accept its central thesis – that it’s time to recognize that an organization built on deception and fear of scandal is not the kind of moral leader anybody should take seriously anymore. And not get hung up on whether it’s even possible that 80% of the upper-level hierarchy of the church have a same-sex orientation. Or, for that matter, whether avowedly celibate 80-year-old men in crimson and lace are gay or straight in real life anyway.

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