I’m currently reading Martel’s “In the Closet of the Vatican”. I was initially wary, suspicious that it could simply fuel a backlash from the orthotoxic Catholics, and would be too much mere sensationalism. I was wrong. This is much, much more than a mere exposé of Vatican gay clergy. It is absolutely riveting, deserving a careful read by all concerned about the Catholic Church.
I was first persuaded to buy it, by reading James Alison’s thoughtful review and commentary at ABC.net.au
So, the other shoe has finally dropped. The veil has been removed from what the French rather gloriously call a secret de Polichinelle ― an open secret: one that “everybody knows” but for which the evidence is both elusive and never really sought. The merely anecdotal is, at last, acquiring the contours of sociological visibility.
The structure of the clerical closet
Frédéric Martel’s book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality and Hypocrisy is the first attempt of which I am aware at a properly researched answer to the question: “How and why is it that the principal institutional obstacle to LGBT rights at the worldwide level appears itself to be massively staffed by gay men?”
James is a personal friend whom I trust. His assessment, based on his own experience as an interviewee for the book, and on his own extensive knowledge of the subject, convinced him that this is a serious attempt at dispassionate, accurate journalism: note his statement of the question: “How and why is it that the principal institutional obstacle to LGBT rights at the worldwide level appears itself to be massively staffed by gay men?”.
James does not need to be told that the Vatican is massively staffed by gay men: he knows that well. What is more important, is the “how and why”, which has not previously been fully addressed. Numerous previous observers have noted the high proportion of gay men in the priesthood, with some attempts at explanation. What I have not previously found, is why that proportion should apparently be even higher at the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy. (Krzystzof Charamsa has written about this specifically for the CDF, from his own insider knowledge, but Oliva goes much beyond that one dicastery).
This not just about outing people. Rather, it’s a solid sociological analysis of why there are so many gay clergy in the priesthood. it’s also a riveting historical account of how a previously extensive but deeply closeted homophile Vatican culture, morphed into a more visible homosexual, sometimes even internally gay, environment – but still deeply closeted externally. These contradictions give rise to the prevalence of publicly virulent homophobia, from men whose personal lives are deeply hypocritical.
One of the criticisms that I have seen of the book is its timing, on the eve of the meeting on child abuse, which has nothing to do with homosexuality. I disagree – Martel’s analysis shows how closeted Vatican homophobia, contributed to the abuse crisis. Indeed, it’s been fascinating reading this book in parallel with reports from the Vatican meeting on the protection of minors. When I first started writing about LGBT Catholics nearly ten years ago, I wrote extensively for a time about the issue of clerical sexual abuse. Later, I wrote a great deal also about gay priests and their particular difficulties. Ten years on, I am left with a deep sense of how far the Catholic church has moved on matters of sexuality during that period – and how far it has yet to go.
Changing Church response to LGBT Catholics