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Frederic Martel’s Bad Book (Part I)

According to Kindle, I have read 39 percent of Frederic Martel’s In The Closet Of The Vatican. [1] I have completed the sections on Pope Francis, and on Paul VI. I’ll stop here and give you all a progress report.

A line in his Paul VI part sums up about 75 percent of this crappy book:

Did Paul VI know about this? It’s possible but not certain.

Reading Closet is like that: lots and lots of speculation, much of it groundless and catty. It’s as if Martel wrote the thing in purple felt-tip marker while tipsy on pink squirrels at a French Quarter piano bar.

Mind you, I expected this book to be dishy and scandalous. How could it not be, with homosexuality in the Vatican as its subject matter? And heaven knows I do appreciate clerical gossip. After so many years of hearing about gay networks among the Catholic hierarchy, and the role these networks (the “lavender mafia”) played in creating and sustaining the culture that aided and abetted the abuse scandal, I am more than ready for the sun to shine in on that sordid world. Écrasez l’infame! said Voltaire, or was it Ignatius Reilly?

(You see what spending the day reading this book has done to me? I feel like I’ve been reading Dorian Greene [2]‘s chapbook.)

Anyway, I expected Closet to be frank about the sex lives of the Roman curia, but I also expected it to be more substantive. It is supposed to be a serious book by a sociologist attempting to comprehend and explain a complex culture hidden from public view. There are valuable things to be learned in this book (more on which in a moment), but Martel is an extremely unreliable narrator.

Here’s Martel describing the traditionalist Cardinal Raymond Burke, known for his elaborate traditional vestments:

There’s nothing effeminate about Burke: it is a matter of respecting tradition, he says. Still: his accoutrements and his unusual drag-queen appearance tell another story.

Martel actually quotes a drag queen analyzing Cardinal Burke’s clothing. Seriously, he does. Martel may be shallow, but he’s deeply shallow.

Here is Martel, sniffing around Burke’s bathroom:

A strange wet room worthy of a deluxe spa resort, and headed like a sauna. The luxury soaps, with their subtle perfumes, are arranged in the Japanese style, and the little towels folded on medium-sized ones, which are in turn arranged on large ones, and the large ones on very large. The toilet paper is new, and set in a protective cover that guarantees its immaculate purity.

New toilet paper! Soaps arranged à la mode japonaise! Well, gosh, the old cardinal must be a flamer.

Here’s another classic Martelism:

I have seen several Saint Sebastians in the Vatican museums, in particular the one by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta, which is so enticing and libidinous that it could be used on the cover of an encyclopaedia of LGBT cultures. And that’s not counting the Saint Sebastian in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which has a chapel dedicated to it, on the right of the entrance, just after Michelangelo’s Pietà. It is also where John Paul II’s body is laid.

Get it? John Paul II is buried in a chapel where a saint whose martyrdom, as represented in art, has become a key gay male icon. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Martel loves insinuations like this.

Here he is on Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s failing to be sufficiently considerate to a nun who served him tea:

The ancient sister, who came in quite diligently, leaves in a sulk. Even a maid in a well-to-do family would be treated better! I felt sorry for her and later, when the time came to leave, I wanted to go and see her to apologize for his rudeness.

Assuming that this is even true, what does it have to do with anything? This is Martel’s style, though: anybody he identifies as being homophobic or in any way opposed to Pope Francis, he snipes at bitchily. Roman cardinals, archbishops, and monsignors receive Martel in their apartments. If the apartments are sizable and luxurious, Martel mocks the lavishness, and the bad taste of the decor. But if he likes the figure he’s interviewing? Well, take a look at this description of the Jesuit priest (and Francis intimate) Antonio Spadaro’s place:

And what an office! The Villa Malta, Via di Porta Pinciana, where the journal is based, is a magnificent location in the area around the Villa Medici and the Palazzo Borghese.

That kind of thing constantly interferes with the narrative, and makes you realize that our Freddy is a world-class flibbertigibbet.

It’s easy to figure out where Martel stands on every personage he writes about: if they’re pro-gay, they’re heroes, and might even be straight (he says his gaydar tells him that liberal Cardinal Walter Kasper is probably “one of the few cardinals in the Curia who aren’t [sic] homosexual.”) If they’re against liberalizing Church teaching on homosexuality, then they are self-hating closet cases.

I’m not exaggerating. It’s just that simple for Martel. Which is an extremely convenient position for a gay man trying to change Church teaching to take.

The Leninist principle of who, whom? [3] guides Martel’s judgments. When Pope Francis speaks out of both sides of his mouth, it’s no bad thing. “So ambiguity remains preferable, which suits this Jesuit pope, who is quite capable of saying a thing and its opposite within a single sentence. Being both gay-friendly and anti-gay — what a gift!”

But when Cardinal Marc Ouellet grants an interview, he’s described as “an expert in double-speak: he is a Ratzingerian who claims to be defending Pope Francis.”

Martel says flat out that the fight going on in the Vatican today between Francis and his opponents is a civil war between gay factions. I’ve not read the whole book, remember, but so far, theology plays almost no role in his account, except for a passage in which a French Dominican is reported to have discovered that St. Thomas Aquinas really didn’t think anything is wrong with same-sex love. Martel doesn’t care about theology. He just wants the closeted conservatives to lose, and gay priests to be able to come out of the closet and have open sex lives. Whatever advances that goal is, by his definition, good; whatever opposes it is bad.

He doesn’t take seriously for one second the theological challenges of reconciling the Sexual Revolution (in its homo and hetero forms) with Christian teaching, both in Scripture and in the Church’s authoritative tradition. This is because, especially in the gay case, it cannot be done — or if it is going to be done, it requires extraordinary casuistry. To be fair, one shouldn’t expect Martel to solve this complex and difficult issue in this book. But he gives no evidence (so far; remember, I’m only about 40 percent in) of taking seriously the position of cardinals, bishops, and priests who really do believe that Scripture, and the Church’s magisterium, teach the truth — however difficult it is to live out that truth.

This is the stuff of great human courage and tragedy — as Martel’s moving discussion of Jacques Maritain indicates — but for the author, it’s about nothing but hate and hypocrisy. In an amazingly trite and self-regarding series of paragraphs, Martel praises himself for being a Frenchman and an atheist who holds the Church in contempt, and who refuses to use the proper titles for the Church dignitaries he meets, out of disdain for the hierarchy. Fine, that’s his right — but his profound ignorance of theology, and why a man would choose to sacrifice his own sexual desire for the sake of serving God, fatally flaws this book. Martel believes that everybody else in the world is as shallow and lust-driven as he is.

What’s so frustrating about this book is that Martel’s thesis, I believe, is sound. There really is an extraordinarily powerful network of gay men in the Vatican. It really does matter in terms of which kind of men are elevated into the episcopate. Martel writes:

To this sociological selection of priests we might add the selection of bishops, which amplifies the phenomenon still further. Homophilic [Martel’s term for gay-positive, though not necessarily gay] cardinals privilege prelates who have inclinations and who, in turn, choose gay priests. Nuncios, those ambassadors fo the pope who are given the task of selecting bishops and among whom the percentage of homosexuals reaches record levels, in turn operate a ‘natural’ selection. According to all the statement that I have collected, the priests who have such inclinations are thought to be favoured when their homosexuality is guessed. More prosaically, it is not rare for a nuncio or a bishop to promote a priest who is also part of ‘the parish’ [gay] because he expects some favours in return.

It really has mattered in the sex abuse crisis. Martel writes, from a pro-gay perspective, a truth that our mainstream media have resisted for years, because of political correctness:

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 even 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.

I believe these things are true based on what I have seen and heard over the years, but I can’t prove them. They would be hard for anyone to prove. If he is to be believed, Martel had unprecedented access to this hidden world — and blew it because he was intellectually unprepared to understand what he was seeing, and incapable of writing with sobriety. It’s as if Virgil took a writer on a three-day tour of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, but instead of Dante, the writer had been late-era Truman Capote, who thought he had been in the back rooms at Studio 54.

At first, I couldn’t understand what Martel’s game was. Why would anyone, much less Vatican conservatives, agree to talk to him? He’s not an unknown quantity. He made his name writing gay books. The answer, I believe, comes when he effusively praises Antonio Spadaro, the combative Jesuit editor of Civiltà Cattolica, and one of Francis’s inner core of advisers, and Monsignor Battista Ricca, the Vatican diplomat who was caught up in gay sex scandals while serving in the field, but rehabilitated by Francis and put in charge of the papal residence. Martel openly credits Spadaro and Ricca for opening doors to him in the Vatican. About Spadaro, he writes:

Young, dynamic and charming, Spadaro is an impressive man. His ideas fly around with obvious speed and intelligence. The Jesuit is interested in all kinds of culture, particularly literature. He already has several books to his credit, including a far-sighted essay on cyber-theology and two biographical works on Pier Vittorio Tondelli, the Catholic homosexual Italian writer who died of AIDS at the age of 36.

In Martel-world, when Vatican priests, whatever their theological orientation, express interest in gay literary figures, it is an infallible sign that they are of the parish. That the author chose to highlight Spadaro’s writing about Tondelli here is meaningful. And, to be frank, you can see a more carnal version of the first two sentences of this paragraph in Martel’s long section about male prostitutes around Roma Termini.

Cardinals, bishops, and others cooperated with Martel, I think, because he came to them with the imprimatur of Spadaro — which carried with it the authority of the Pope. Whether or not Francis knew this is a different question. My theory is that Spadaro is the mastermind of this project, and is gambling that a big book portraying Francis’s opposition in the Curia and in the College of Cardinals as consisting of nothing but self-hating homosexual hypocrites will turn the tide of battle in a progressive direction. Think of it: if the Vatican really is overwhelmingly gay, and conservatives fighting Francis’s liberalizing are nothing but hypocrites trying to protect a system that lets them have secret sexual affairs while forbidding those freedoms to the laity, well, the laity may turn on the conservatives, giving Francis victory.

Why do I say that? Aside from what you’ve already read in this post, the book is at its best offering truly interesting details about infighting around the Synod on the Family in 2014, when Francis was checked by opponents. There’s no point in repeating Martel’s blow by blow account here, much of which (the public actions) has been reported before. It’s enough to know that it vindicates the conservative Catholic claim that the entire Francis reform process is meant to normalize homosexuality in particular, and the Sexual Revolution in general. Martel says all this from a pro-reform point of view. The villains in the conservative narrative are the heroes of Martel’s account — but their actions are the same.

If I were a Catholic, my blood would run cold, reading about the Machiavellian maneuvering going on at the summit of the Catholic Church, and observing how close the liberals — homosexual and homophilic both — are to winning. The fight going on in Rome right now is a battle that will decide the future of global Catholicism — and the good guys are in serious trouble.

(They are in trouble because they allowed the rot within the institution to fester for far too long, as I suspect I will read in the rest of the book, which covers the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.)

I mentioned earlier that Martel never gives those he identifies as enemies of gays any breaks. He sees Pope Francis, though, as a truly revolutionary figure, and excuses any anti-gay remarks Francis makes. For example:

Sentenced to live with this very unusual fauna, Pope Francis does what he can.


One of the specialists in Argentinian Catholicism … sums up the debate more or less as follows: ‘What do you expect of Francis? He’s an 82-year-old Peronist priest. How do you expect him to be modern and progressive at his age?”

And so forth. For conservatives, inconsistencies is a sign of diabolical hypocrisy. For Francis? Well, you have to understand, darling… . It’s who, whom all the way down.

Martel praises Francis for his compassion, his humility, his hatred of hypocrisy, and, yes, his fabled mercy. In an interview with Father Federico Lombardi, the retired Vatican spokesman, Martel presses him on whether or not Francis is talking about of both sides of his mouth about homosexuality, with his “Who am I to judge?” rhetoric (which, please note, was spoken in response to a question about the disgraced Msgr Ricca). Lombardi says:

“What I mean is that this phrase is not evidence of a choice or a change of doctrine. But it did have a very positive aspect: it is about personal situations. It is an approach based on proximity, accompaniment, pastoral care. But that isn’t to say that [being gay] is good. It means that the pope doesn’t feel it is his place to judge.”

“Is it a Jesuit formula? Is it Jesuitical?” [Martel asks]

“Yes, if you like, it’s a Jesuit phrase. It’s the choice of mercy, the pastoral way with personal dilemmas. It is a phrase of discernment. [Francis] is looking for a path. In a way he is saying: “I am with you to go on a journey.” But Francis replies to an individual situation [the case of Msgr Ricca] with a pastoral response; on matters of doctrine, he remains faithful.”

Again: if the same kind of thing came from a conservative, Martel would condemn it as rank hypocrisy. But because this kind of casuistry is used to advance the pro-gay cause while pretending to be doctrinally orthodox, wonder of wonders, Francis is the pope of mercy.

This passage summing up Spadaro’s 2013 Civiltà Cattolica interview with Francis (which you can read on the Vatican’s own website [4]), in which the pope laid out his ideas on homosexuality and Church reform, gives away the end goal of all this:

Spadaro won’t let go of the gay question, pushing Francis on his entrenchments and leading him to sketch out a truly Christian version of homosexuality. The pope asks that homosexuals be accompanied “with mercy,” and he imagines pastoral care for “irregular situations” and the “socially wounded” who feel “condemned by the Church.” Never has a pope had so much empathy and, let’s say the word, fraternity, for homosexuals. It’s a genuine Galilean revolution! And this time, his words certainly weren’t improvised, as they might have been for his famous phrase: “Who am I to judge?” The interview has been minutely edited and very word carefully weighed (as Spadaro confirms to me).

For Francis, however, the crux lies elsewhere: it’s time for the Church to move away from questions that divide believers and concentrate instead on the real issues: the poor, migrants, poverty. “We can’t only insist on questions bound up with abortion, homosexual marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. It’s not possible … It isn’t necessary to go on talking about it all the time,” the pope says.

Ah. Remember what Francis appointee Cardinal Blase Cupich said last summer [5], about the Viganò testimony claiming that gays in high Vatican positions had covered up for Uncle Ted McCarrick? Cupich told a Chicago TV station that investigating the Viganò claims would be going down a “rabbit hole,” that the pope has “got to get on with other things, of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the Church.”

This wasn’t just Cupich’s idea. It started with Francis, at the beginning. Francis named Cupich as one of the four organizers of the current Vatican conference on dealing with sex abuse. Homosexuality in the priesthood is not on the agenda. It cannot be officially acknowledged, one understands, but by opening the doors to this hidden world to Martel, Coach Spadaro of Team Francis appears to be playing a dangerous double game.

By the way, about the pope of mercy praised by Martel and the pro-gay Vatican figures? Here’s how Francis got even with the cardinals and bishops who opposed him in the earlier Synod on the Family sessions:

It is now that we see the third part of Francis’s battle against his opposition: the Luciferian. Methodically, the pope will punish his enemies, one cardinal after the other: either by taking away their ministries … ; by emptying their function of all substance … ; by dismissing their entourages … ; or by letting the cardinals weaken themselves… . Who said Pope Francis was merciful?

Now I turn to the greater part of the book: the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan is far more positive about the book. [6] Here are excerpts from his essay:

Among the named sources: Francesco Lepore, a brilliant young gay Latin translator and priest. He 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.

Well, maybe. I fully credit the possibility, even the likelihood, that this is true. But without names attached to the claims, the reader has to trust the author. Martel makes this very, very difficult to do. I say this as a reader who, though a theological and moral conservative, is inclined to believe, broadly, these claims. (Martel seems to believe that they help the liberal cause, but I think an equally strong case can be made for the opposite conclusion.) But precisely because I am prepared to believe them, I am on guard against confirmation bias.

More Sullivan — from the parts of the book that I have not yet read:

The revelations keep coming, page after page. For example: Martel explains how two of John Paul II’s favorite cardinals — whose nicknames within the Vatican are Platinette (after a drag queen) and La Mongolfiera — set up an elaborate and elite prostitution service that continued through the papacy of Benedict XVI, and was financed from the Vatican coffers. We know this through police records from the eventual criminal proceedings, where the actual ringleaders remained anonymous and without charges, because of the Vatican’s diplomatic immunity. Here are some of the minutes of the recorded phone conversations from the trial: “‘I won’t tell you any more. He’s two metres tall, such and such a weight, and he’s 33.’ ‘I have a situation in Naples … I don’t know how to tell you, it’s really not something to miss … 32 years old, 1 metre 93, very handsome.’ ‘I have a Cuban situation.’ ‘I’ve just arrived from Germany with a German.’ ‘I have two blacks.’ ‘X has a Croatian friend who wanted to see if you could find a time.’ ‘I’ve got a footballer.’ ‘I’ve got a guy from Abruzzo.’”


Then there’s simply the reporting. Some of the most conservative clerics concede the truth of the book on the record. Or take Martel’s interaction with the Swiss Guards, one of whom vents: “The harassment is so insistent that I said to myself that I was going straight home. Many of us are exasperated by the usually rather indiscreet advances of the cardinals and bishops.” Or the prostitutes who keep elaborate records of their clients, and have already caused huge scandals [7] in Italy. Or a confessor-priest in Saint Peter’s who guides Martel into the Vatican with the words: “Welcome to Sodoma.” Martel double-checks rumors until he can confirm them. Of course, many of these sources remain unnamed. The very subject matter makes that unavoidable. But critics of the book — and the defensive  [8]dismissals [9] of it as mere salacious gossip are already out there — have to argue that Martel is a liar, a fabulist, a con artist, who faked these remarkable interviews. I don’t buy it.

If you want to find a figure who crystallizes all this hypocrisy in the narrative, it would be the late Colombian cardinal, Alfonso LópezTrujillo, tasked by John Paul II in the 1970s to rid Latin America of liberation theology, and then to launch a global crusade against homosexuality and the use of condoms. While he was in Colombia, Trujillo toured the country on a witch hunt for progressive prelates. How do we know? Trujillo’s own master of ceremonies on these trips tells us: “López Trujillo travelled with members of the paramilitary groups … He pointed out the priests who were carrying out social actions in the barrios and the poorer districts. The paramilitaries identified them and sometimes went back to murder them. Often they had to leave the region or the country.”

From Sullivan’s description, it sounds like Martel’s reporting on things in JP2’s and BXVI’s papacies is on far more solid ground. I’ll read it for myself, and hope (I think) that the last 60 percent of the book is better than the first 40 percent — more objectively credible, I mean. If Martel had had a stronger editorial hand guiding him, his book would have been much better.

Whatever my eventual take on the book is, I completely share Sullivan’s view that all of this must be exposed, no matter who it hurts. The lies, and the structures of lies, have to end. If it requires conservatives having to face squarely and without excuse the failures of St. JP2 and BXVI, then so be it. If even half of this is true, the Catholic Church has an existential crisis on its hands, something as threatening to it as the Reformation. The people ought to know it.

Sullivan ends his column on a deeply personal note. I can tell you, as someone who was in touch with him as he was reading the book, that this is entirely true and heartfelt:

As for me, someone who has wrestled with the question of homosexuality and Catholicism for much of my adult life, this book has, to be honest, been gutting. All the painful, wounding Vatican documents on my “objective disorder” that I have tried to parse and sincerely engage … I find out they were written, in part, by tormented gay men, partly to deflect from their own nature. Everything I was taught growing up — to respect the priests and hierarchs, to trust them, to accept their moral authority — is in tatters. To realize that the gay closet played a part in enabling the terrible, unimaginable abuse of the most vulnerable is a twist my psyche is having a hard time absorbing. Reading this long book, I found myself falling asleep not because it was boring. Au contraire. In some way, my psyche just couldn’t take any more. My mind and body kept shutting down.

Read the whole thing.  [6]

UPDATE.2: Michael Brendan Dougherty weighs in. [10] Excerpt:

Martel’s preferred story is one of moral hypocrisy. That may be a real moral problem for some churchmen. But because this is Martel’s bias, he is incapable of looking at the crisis through the lens of moral indifference, moral lassitude, and moral cronyism, which are the major factors in the crisis of sexual abuse and predation in the Church.

That Martel was helped in this sordid endeavor of cover-up and baseless accusation by the pope’s closest advisers should be a source of immense scandal to those in the Church and outside it. He likes opera. He must be gay. He likes vestments. Must be gay. He has a pleasant voice. Gay. This is the kind of moral enlightenment that Pope Francis’s allies have brought to the Church? The only stereotype that Martel doesn’t use is the one about men who engage in constant salacious sexual gossip and speculation, as it would indict all his sources.

The book is trash. The supposed justice meted to McCarrick amounts to a cover-up. The pope’s summit is trash and a coverup. These men do not fear the justice of God or men. All their training in theology, and their great insight about man’s depravity, is the schoolyard taunt “Whoever smelt it, dealt it.” To hell with them all.

Whole thing here.  [10]

77 Comments (Open | Close)

77 Comments To "Frederic Martel’s Bad Book (Part I)"

#1 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 23, 2019 @ 1:14 am

[NFR: LFM, the person making these claims is not an American, but the gay atheist French author of the book. — RD]

There is, however, a thriving subculture that views any men who don’t uphold blue-collar values and norms as suspect. Including, I suspect, in parts of France, particularly outside Paris. The boundaries of “proper” masculinity very from place to place (an obvious example: when and where I grew up, soccer was often derided as a “wussy” sport, and still is so mocked in some quarters in this country; but it is the sport of working-class men in much of the world), but identification of non-macho men with homosexuality (even if as a casual insult rather than a serious accusation) is still quite commonplace, and not at all specific to the US.

[NFR: This is true — which is one reason it’s so weird to see Martel embrace it fully. — RD]

#2 Comment By Ben H On February 23, 2019 @ 1:14 am

“Martel’s preferred story is one of moral hypocrisy.”

Pointing out the supposed moral hypocrisy of others is something you see from gay guys all the time. There are at least 10 comments asserting hypocrisy in every combox thread on this website no matter what the topic is. It’s the standard response from that set.

Why? One of the characteristic psychological side effects of living a homosexual lifestyle is: crushing guilt which brings about shame and self-loathing.

This is clear from even back in biblical times. Right before the men of Sodom try to rape Lot, they accuse him of judging them!

When someone is guilty, they can either accept the guilt and try to change or they can try to offload that guilt onto others (going back to the Bible – the way Adam tries to blame both Eve and God after he eats the apple).

So this “look at me the hilarious flamer who knows everyone is as obsessed with gay sex as I am” act is a deflection of Martel’s guilt onto others. Since “everyone” is just as obsessed, those who don’t admit they love guy on guy action as much as him are “hypocrites” who are lying to themselves and us. The guilt and shame he feels can be deflected and becomes an accusation.

Reading this book sounds like an awful chore.

#3 Comment By LFM On February 23, 2019 @ 10:39 am

Cosmin Visan writes, “My further question is: what if this [i.e. many/most priests gay] has been true for ever (centuries)? Ever since they nixed priest marriages?”

No, really. As long as the priesthood was a route for poor boys to get an education (as it was for several great uncles of mine), and for young men of low social status to rise in the world, gay men were not likely to be as dominant in the pre-modern Church as they became in our time. Before that, poor men and women in Europem (not so much in North America where land was cheaper) found it much harder to marry. They needed jobs or dowries to make marriage a realistic possibility. Thus many of them grew up expecting to live sexless or nearly sexless lives in any case (like the Bronte sisters or Jane and Cassandra Austen, who could not of course become religious), so religious life would have seemed less lonely and restrictive to them than to us. Not to mention that marriage, even for those couples, like my grandparents on both sides, who had just enough money to pull it off, was not necessarily a very attractive proposition, what with the cramped living quarters and numerous children, who might all die before they grew up.

Bearing all that in mind, I think, though I can’t know, that homosexuality in the priesthood and religious life in general was far less of an issue in pre-modern times than it became in the 20th century.

#4 Comment By LFM On February 23, 2019 @ 10:45 am

Engineer Scotty, I take your point, but I must add that no one ever suspected Louis XIV, for example, of homosexuality or even wussiness. If Martel were before me as I write, I would remind him of this…

BTW, I once dated an Irishman, son of a merchant seaman, whose father thought ALL organized sports were wussy and wanted his son to box, in spite of his talent for soccer, er, football.

Mr Dreher, if I’m making too many comments, please edit or omit as you see fit.

#5 Comment By KAM On February 23, 2019 @ 10:48 am

Sullivan: “If you want to find a figure who crystallizes all this hypocrisy in the narrative, it would be the late Colombian cardinal, Alfonso LópezTrujillo, tasked by John Paul II in the 1970s to rid Latin America of liberation theology, and then to launch a global crusade against homosexuality and the use of condoms.”

JP2 became pope on October 17, 1978. So, I’m wondering about claims re what he did “in the 1970’s”.

#6 Comment By Fr Martin Fox On February 23, 2019 @ 11:00 am

Above, John posted a link to a photograph of Cardinal Burke in some rather extravagant vestments, which I’m sure look very odd to a lot of people.

It may be hard for some people to appreciate, but there is a great deal of symbolism and meaning involved in the attire the Cardinal was wearing; he was, I believe, wearing them in the context of a traditional liturgy, and as such, probably at the behest of the community for whom he was offering Mass.

A lot of people like the old stuff because it expressed the grandeur of the Church and of the priesthood. They also like the old stuff because what replaced it is so often shabby and dispiriting. And, very specifically, in the context of a solemn pontifical Mass, the prelate would enter in his “street” clothes which were very splendid (i.e., the photo linked above); all this would be stripped away, and replaced by vestments, which are not his, but represent the splendor of Christ, who is the true high priest.

If you say you don’t “get it,” well, you don’t have to. The people involved do get it. And when you think about it, this is so often the case with ritual. In this big, beautiful and often weird world of ours, there are a lot of rituals — only some are religious — that involve gestures, music, movement and attire that seems bizarre to those outside.

Oh, and for anyone who cares: the soap in my bathroom is Krogers liquid soap. I buy it myself in the biggest containers they have (to save money). In the shower I have whatever was on sale. Occasionally, I have something fancier; whenever I travel, I try to take with me the soap I used. I think it’s a shame to throw away a bar of soap that was only slightly used; and sometimes that is pretty nice soap which I will never buy for myself.

#7 Comment By Lee On February 23, 2019 @ 11:22 am

@ Cosmin Visan
“My further question is: what if this has been true for ever (centuries)? Ever since they nixed priest marriages?”

It would seem so although I don’t think it has anything to do with nixing priest marriages. If you were a gay man in a world where that was unacceptable (and at times punished by death) and you did not want to marry a woman and pretend to be hetero, what other options were there other than the Church? Especially options where you would be respected and secure and perhaps thought you stood at least a chance of being “cured”?

In the 11th century, St. Peter Damian wrote The Book of Gomorrah objecting to homosexuality in the priesthood with a description of behavior very similar to what we hear today.

This article by Andrew Sullivan goes into a bit of the history of homosexuality in the Church and attempts, at least, to take on the question of why the Church is so gay. There is plenty to agree with and object to for everyone in this article but it certainly is thought-provoking.


#8 Comment By Locksley On February 23, 2019 @ 12:16 pm

“No one ever suspected Louis XIV, for example, of homosexuality or even wussiness. If Martel were before me as I write, I would remind him of this…”

Look at the painting of Edward VII in his coronation robes. He dressed fancier than Cardinal Burke ever has, and no one has been silly enough to suspect him of closeted homoerotism.

#9 Comment By mohammad On February 23, 2019 @ 1:20 pm

[NFR: Of course. But that would get in the way of the Narrative, wouldn’t it? We have a housekeeper from a maid service come once a week. She always makes some cute little origami thing out of the end of the toilet paper rolls in the bathrooms. It’s very odd but charming — and totally her idea. I can only imagine what Martel would do with that. — RD]

The fact that you find such a wussy thing charming explains everything about you: You are definitely a self-hating closet gay man. Admit it!

[NFR: But … but … I only listen to those old Bronski Beat albums *ironically*! — RD]

#10 Comment By Red Pill Angel On February 23, 2019 @ 2:31 pm

So many interesting comments that are helping me understand the book, which by the way, is quite readable. I don’t think I could handle another “Sacrilege” right now.

Everyone seems upset about Martel’s gaydar comments about Cardinal Burke. Burke is obviously effeminate, although I doubt he arranges his soaps himself. He actually reminds me a great deal of a transgender friend who is very fond of traditional liturgy and extremely (Francis might say “rigidly”) conservative. My friend seems perfectly sincere, and Burke might also be. I can never know. But psychological projection can go so far that it moves beyond cognitive dissonance and seems more like a form of mental illness.

So now I’m taking a break from the book and wondering what I will do if the church splits down the middle and I have to choose between 1)a church run by openly gay priests officiating over gay marriages, but also with older married heterosexual priests (Martel claims Francis is in favor of this), and 2)a conservative church with traditional teachings, run by closeted gay priests like Burke.

[NFR: You have no reason to believe that Burke is gay, other than that he prefers traditional dress. It’s not my cup of tea either, the cappa magna, and all the frills, but it’s unjust to call a man gay based on that alone. [12]; you think he’s effeminate? Come on. In real life, he might be as gay as Liza Minnelli’s address book, but you can’t tell it from his mannerisms or the way he dresses, as a traditionalist cardinal. — RD]

#11 Comment By Red Pill Angel On February 23, 2019 @ 4:03 pm

You’re correct, I had no reason to call Burke a “closeted gay;” I should have simply stated “a conservative church with traditional teachings, run by closeted gays.”

Let me add now that my MtF trans friend was heterosexual prior to his coming out, and I honestly don’t know what to call her now. It’s very confusing. My assessment of Burke as “effeminate” was based on the photo another commenter posted, which did seem right over the top, but then again, that’s traditional dress.

I listened to the video link you provided (thank you), and I agree, Cardinal Burke isn’t effeminate, although he doesn’t seem as masculine as McCarrick. See, I have no gaydar whatsoever. None. Everyone knew the Vatican was full of gays? Everyone except me!

#12 Comment By Just a Baptist On February 23, 2019 @ 4:42 pm

Martel says he has a highly developed intuitive ability to discern that 80% of the Vatican crew are homosexuals. Boy howdy!

My wife informs me that my ability to discern the sexual proclivities of others is perhaps the worst of anyone on the planet. She is probably right. However, I have an almost infallible intuitive ability to know who not to loan money to. The fraction is a lot higher than 80%. Hasn’t failed me yet.

As for Martel, who am I to judge.

Especially since I am certainly not going to read his book.

I had an acquaintance who told me that his intuition informed him that every woman he met was attracted to him personally. Not everybody’s intuition is as good as they think it is.

#13 Comment By Red Pill Angel On February 23, 2019 @ 4:48 pm

Your commentary on the book, that of other commenters, and the other blogs you’ve linked to is very much appreciated. I’m still sorting through it all.

I don’t want to be too gullible in lapping up Martel’s gossip, but on the other hand, so many devout Catholics seem unutterably naïve. I’m torn. Is Princess Thurn und Taxis right — keep gays lovingly closeted, be forgiving of their weakness, but support traditional lifestyles? Or is Francis right — allow gay priests to come out of the closet, and at the same time, have married heterosexual priests? Is there another position I’m missing?

#14 Comment By William Callaghan On February 23, 2019 @ 6:32 pm

The sainthood given to JPII will surely now have to be revoked, his reputation is shattered forever

[NFR: I don’t think you can revoke sainthood. — RD]

#15 Comment By jcm On February 23, 2019 @ 6:43 pm

The insinuations about Burke have a touch of Sue Ann Nivens about them. A test here is not whether the book is fun, or even well sourced, but whether it leaves the reader feeling a little sullied. I knew an older lady at work who was a great conversationalist but she would pepper her talk with enigmatic, little observations such as, “Oh, ‘Tommy’ is such a nice man. Have you noticed how intently he looks at everyone’s family pictures? He must be fond of little children. Funny he doesn’t have any himself.” Better she would have come out and called him a pedophile.

#16 Comment By David J. White On February 23, 2019 @ 7:27 pm

Get it? John Paul II is buried in a chapel where a saint whose martyrdom, as represented in art, has become a key gay male icon. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Martel loves insinuations like this

President James A. Garfield is buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, a stone’s throw from the grave of John D. Rockefeller. I guess that proves that President Garfield was a supporter of robber-baron capitalism! Who knew? Thanks, Monsieur Martel!

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 23, 2019 @ 9:21 pm

NFR: I don’t think you can revoke sainthood. — RD

Perhaps it can be annuled on the grounds that it never really existed in the first place.

I guess that proves that President Garfield was a supporter of robber-baron capitalism!

Well… he was. But it had nothing to do with Rockefeller’s grave.

#18 Comment By charles cosimano On February 23, 2019 @ 11:04 pm

“In conclusion, perhaps we should outfit our own Uncle Chucky to go to the Vatican, sort this menagerie out with his psyonic equipment, and then write about it. Why read exasperating books that rely on some “gaydar”, when we have resources of our own? ”

LOL. I could use the psioncs to sort it out all right but Rod would have a fit.

#19 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On February 24, 2019 @ 12:11 am

NFR: I don’t think you can revoke sainthood. — RD

Siarlys Jenkins says:
Perhaps it can be annuled on the grounds that it never really existed in the first place.

Thank you, that made my day.

#20 Comment By Hoosier On February 24, 2019 @ 9:46 am

Martel interviewed many priests for this book. I guess if you don’t believe that then I can understand the skepticism. But I don’t think that’s true having read the first few chapters. If in fact he did interview all the people he claims to have spoken with, why is this such a bad book? He’s not attempting to prove any one specific point. He’s just illustrating the existence of a vast gay sub-culture within the vatican. You yourself said you believe this to be true.

Whether his diagnosis for why this happens is correct or not is besides the point. It won’t ever be proven either way. But what is important is that this stuff is being documented.

It’s very interesting that all the criticisms of this book I have seen have come from straight men. I get the feeling that there is a level of distaste and disbelief that this could be happening and they want the story to go away. If you’re not a part of a certain culture you’re not going to be able to understand it well.

Ross Douthat wrote a column this week defending celibacy in the priesthood. But he doesn’t touch upon how celibacy effects gay priests specifically, just how it effects the priesthood in general. I think this is a blind spot, he is simply unwilling to look deeper into the issue.

And those conservative critics who acknowledge the presence of a big gay clique within the church don’t seem to consider it possible that celibacy attracts such men.

#21 Comment By David J. White On February 24, 2019 @ 11:25 am

No, really. As long as the priesthood was a route for poor boys to get an education (as it was for several great uncles of mine), and for young men of low social status to rise in the world, gay men were not likely to be as dominant in the pre-modern Church as they became in our time. Before that, poor men and women in Europem (not so much in North America where land was cheaper) found it much harder to marry. They needed jobs or dowries to make marriage a realistic possibility.

If you were the third or fourth son in a working-class Irish- or Polish- or Italian-American family in the early 20th century, and you know that getting married and having a family would probably mean a lifetime of working in the same factory or mine where your father worked, the prospect of trading marriage for the priesthood–which would offer the chance for an education, maybe travel, entering a profession respected in your community, and, if you had a head for business, the chance to run a parish of your own–might seem like a pretty good deal.

#22 Comment By JCM On February 24, 2019 @ 1:03 pm

You can’t annul sainthood. When the Church canonizes, it is an irrefutable statement that that person is in Heaven. The Church, for example, did not annul sainthood in the cases of Sts. Christopher and Barbara, respectively. Their feast days were removed as mandatory commemorations to make way in the calendar for more relevant and recent examples of sanctity.

At least that was the given reason; the real reason was that there were strong doubts that such persons ever existed. But they were not uncanonized. Devotees to Christopher and Barbara were nevertheless still irked at the Church for devaluating popular devotions. Think of St. Expedite in New Orleans.

#23 Comment By John On February 24, 2019 @ 1:12 pm

The conservatives have no choice but to defend celibacy and abstinence. If they explicitly recognize what to the liberal states is obviously – that it is not a realistic ccexpectation that can be imposed on priests then the game is up for them. If it is unrealistic to impose that expectation on priests than it can’t be imposed on gays and so a church which recognizes sexual orientation as something that is not freely chosen will have a conundrum. How can it on the one hand uphold a claim about proper sexual conduct that cannot be realistically upheld. It seems they would be condemning these people to a life of “sin.”

On the other hand if they don’t get rid of the celibacy vow they will forever be dependent upon a predominantly homosexual priesthood comprised of self haters who uphold church teachings and the occasionally quiet dissenters. What straight male wants to give up a life of sex, romance, love, wife and kids (well maybe the kid part) to lead a life of prayer and god worship. Most straight men would not trade in that life if family to be a priest.

The church can’t have an anti-gay or anti-homosexual witch hunt without lifting the ban on celibacy and abstinence because it would be left with many priests. To say mass.

On the other hand it might just be in their interest to keep the status quo. Everyone with a stake in preserving the church’s positions would want to leave things as is for it allows them to preserve the myth that sexual abstinence is a realistic standard it can impose on the typical parishioner even if they believe they can’t Impose or uphold that standard on their own. It is a seemingly impossible standard to uphold in most of their eyes since they consistently break their vows but they can’t let us in in that secret now can they? They need the parishioner to believe that the priest and bishops are upholding a religious tradition and belief system that was revealed to them by god himself. If what they taught is wrong they no longer have any relevance. Their power gone, because no one would believe god speaks for them. the money coffers that sustain their livelihood would be emptied. And in either case they don’t want to be exposed. It would embarrass and shame them in the least offensive of cases and brand the more offensive ones as presumed criminals in the more offensive cases.

Trading celibacy for a more heterosexually oriented priesthood won’t help anyway. It won’t end the sexual abuse scandal, simply redistribute it’s share of victims from one whose victimhood was primarily directed at pre-teen and teenage boys to one’s that includes more girls. Right now the scandal largely (though not exclusively) includes boy victims because the priesthood is disproportionately composed of homosexuals but that will change if married heterosexuals are invited to enter into priesthood.

#24 Comment By Lee On February 24, 2019 @ 9:54 pm

I don’t have a clue how any of the problems in the Catholic Church will be resolved or IF they will be resolved but if you want to protect your own kids, teach them from a very young age that no one has the right to touch their body in any way that makes them uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you have to explain sex to them at 3 years old but it does mean that you don’t force them at 3 years old to hug someone they don’t want to hug. As they grow older, reinforce it and when you think it’s necessary be sure to tell them that if someone touches them inappropriately and tells them they will do something bad if they tell, you will protect them and the family. Google about it and teach them the right stuff.

The only thing that stops abusers is victims that speak up.

#25 Comment By Liam On February 25, 2019 @ 9:11 am

While there’s no nullifying a canonization as such, no canonization requires enrollment in any universal or local liturgical calendar. So JP2 can be removed from such calendars by a subsequent pope.

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 25, 2019 @ 10:40 am

If they explicitly recognize what to the liberal states is obviously – that it is not a realistic ccexpectation that can be imposed on priests then the game is up for them. If it is unrealistic to impose that expectation on priests than it can’t be imposed on gays and so a church which recognizes sexual orientation as something that is not freely chosen will have a conundrum.

Only in your narrow little mind, John. If you can define your opponents’ principles in the most narrow and banal way, then of course you can ridicule the straw man of your own creation.

Personally, I think the priestly celibacy rule is silly, and I adhere to the historical analysis that it was introduced centuries after Christianity began, as a measure to curtail the inheritance of valuable estates and benefices in priestly dynasties. The mere fact that Paul referenced a bishop being the husband of one wife speaks volumes. I know there are sophistries by which advocates of priestly celibacy try to get around that, and I know that understanding what REALLY happened in history is a murky business at best, but I believe this to be the most reliable picture available.

But, I also know that there ARE priests who fulfill their vows of celibacy, and for whatever reason take joy in them. I know there are priests who argued for rescinding the rule, although their own choice was to remain celibate as a sacrifice to God, and its not really a voluntary sacrifice if its mandatory. It is a sacrifice. Sacrifice is not easy. People who try often fail to live up to their own ideals. But some try anyway, and some even succeed.

Drawing a direct line to the theological significance of homosexuality is comparing apples and oranges. The only common point is that sexual desire, like sisterhood, is powerful. (Not trying to be sarcastic about feminism in general — my late mother was an industrial engineer — but about facile one liners dripping with unstated implication.)

Powerful desires can be harmful, and worth resisting. Is same-sex attraction one of them? Reasonable minds can differ on that point. Some people are more easily addicted to heroin than others. Pedophiles, whether same-sex or oppposite-sex attracted, may in some instance be born that way, it may well be “who and what I am” to them, and there may be nothing they can do to change it. It may not be a choice. But it is dangerous, and a sound basis for a policy that either you control yourself, difficult as that may be, or you will be locked up on the other side of a wall from any child you might ever threaten.

There is no basis for civil repression of same-sex couples among adults. There is no legal basis for invidious discrimination in employment (most jobs anyway). There is also no reason to suppress religious teaching that calls on anyone who is same-sex attracted to resist temptation, either because their earthly body and psyche or their immortal soul will be healthier for it.

It is true? I don’t know. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about it. I have zero respect for men who boast about what good Christians they are because they have never lain with a man as with a woman. Hey, were you ever tempted? There is no virtue in refraining from a sin you never desired to commit, or in fact found repulsive. For those who ARE tempted … well, maybe this is the way God made you, or maybe this is a temptation from the devil, but that’s between you and God and any church you care to join.

Still, it may be true that an all-male priesthood bound by vows of celibacy is NOT the place for a gay man. It may even be true, if mandatory celibacy is rescinded, that an all male priesthood of a church that does not recognize sanctity in same-sex monogamous partnerships, is not a good place for a gay man either.

#27 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 26, 2019 @ 12:33 am

Engineer Scotty, I take your point, but I must add that no one ever suspected Louis XIV, for example, of homosexuality or even wussiness. If Martel were before me as I write, I would remind him of this…

BTW, I once dated an Irishman, son of a merchant seaman, whose father thought ALL organized sports were wussy and wanted his son to box, in spite of his talent for soccer, er, football.

Stereotypes, of course, vary widely by time and place. What was considered proper for an European noble or royal during the 18th century, and what is considered proper attire for a “manly man” today, need not have anything to do with each other. Scotsman wear kilts, after all; in most of the rest of the West men wearing what are essentially skirts is not considered rugged.

In the case of Cdl. Burke–the wearing of traditional Catholic vestments by a high official within the Roman Catholic church is probably not evidence of much of anything, even if the cardinal happens to enjoy such threads rather than regarding them as a burden of the office. No matter how much Sully may snark about Benedict’s red shoes.