Dismantling the Catholic Clerical Closet

Welcome to my world: Notes on the reception of Frédéric Martel’s bombshell by James Alison is an in-depth and profoundly pastoral response to Frédéric Martel’s recently released 500-page book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality and Hypocrisy.

I have found Fr. Alison’s writings over the years to be exceptionally insightful and humanizing. I’m sure most won’t read Martel’s investigative project, but Alison’s important analysis can be read and wrestled with. I found his challenge to the response “Well, I can’t see the problem with having all these gay men as priests, Bishops and Cardinals, just so long as they honour their commitment to sexual continence” to be mind expanding.–Rose Berger

Welcome to my world: Notes on the reception of Frédéric Martel’s bombshell by James Alison

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?”

This is not, by any standards, a stupid question. The search for evidence involved Martel in several years of investigative journalism. He made multiple trips worldwide, spent months of residence both in Rome and within the Vatican, all under his own name. And he conducted hundreds of interviews with those involved in one way or another. From sex-workers to Cardinals, by way of journalists, doctors, police, priests, diplomats and lawyers. The harvest of evidence yields a picture: that of the systemic way dishonestly-lived homosexuality creates a self-reinforcing culture of mutual cover-up. In other words: the structure of the clerical closet.

Some of what we learn is both new and genuinely shocking: the relations between General Pinochet, right-wing gay Catholic circles in Chile and Angelo Sodano (who appointed many in the now disgraced Chilean hierarchy); the ability of the Argentine military junta of the 1970s to blackmail the then Nuncio, Pio Laghi, owing to his use of “taxiboys”; whether learning about the state of sexual abuses in the Archdiocese of Havana was the last straw for Pope Benedict, triggering his abdication; Alfonso López Trujillo’s links with drug traffickers in Colombia, as well as his sexual violence towards “rentboys” in Medellín; and so much more, both financial and sexual. Some stories were known in their countries of origin ? at least to local journalists, if not more publicly ? but this is the first time all this evidence has been linked together worldwide.

While there are some monsters in Martel’s pages, as well as much that would scarcely be striking if it were not lived out in the midst of the otherwise bureaucratic lives of higher-up Church officials, this is not an especially salacious book. All the potentially sensationalist elements are played down in order to bring out the workings of a system which those involved think they are running, but which in fact runs them, sadly and cruelly. Martel is clear that he comes across many gay men, but very few paedophiles, and, unlike some of those he interviews, he is perfectly aware that these are two quite different things.

This is emphatically not a book about clerical child abuse; nevertheless, the systemic nature of the mendacity that is revealed does have important consequences for understanding how the cover up of child abuse has been so prevalent. The same systemic mendacity throws light on how and why a whole generation of senior clergy, from the end of the Second Vatican Council onward, failed to engage with the public learning process concerning homosexuality, though this public learning has, to a greater or lesser extent, characterised all of us, in all cultures, over the last fifty years or more. Survey after survey has shown that the senior clergy’s recalcitrant failure to learn in this sphere has played as great a role in their loss for the Gospel of entire generations of the faithful as their tendency to cover up for priestly abusers. … Read the rest of the article.

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