In the Closet of the Vatican

Andrew Brown in The Guardian:

Some years ago a well-placed German Catholic priest sent me a long letter denouncing a network of gay clergy supposedly centred around Pope Benedict XVI’s private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein. In official Catholic teaching it is not a sin to be gay, although the inclination is “an objective moral disorder”; but it is sinful to act on this inclination. How sinful depends on your confessor. The result is that gay clergy are officially innocent until guilty but in gossip guilty until proven innocent – which of course they never quite can be. Most of the men cited were identified only by their initials, and the sender himself hoped to remain anonymous. But with patience and the help of friends, I worked out who all the initials belonged to and tracked the author to his cathedral. He denied everything and expressed surprise that a reputable newspaper should be interested in such gossip. I will not easily forget his smirk as he said this.

It was a glimpse of the poisonous world that Frédéric Martel, himself gay, has spent five years researching for this book. In this place of make-believe, guilt and constant innuendo the prelates live in a tension between the dreadful fear of being outed and the loneliness of not being recognised for who and what they are. So they out each other instead, compulsively. Martel’s rule of thumb is that the most publicly homophobic prelates are those most likely to be homosexually inclined themselves; the only ones who feel they can afford to be sympathetic to gay people are celibate straight people, who do exist in the Vatican. Martel quotes the estimate of the pope’s former chief Latinist that up to 80% of the Vatican staff could be gay even if obviously most of them are buttoned up. The real figure is unknowable but 80% is not entirely incredible.

One of the most impressive, and saddening, parts of Martel’s research is his exploration of the world of migrant sex workers in Rome. Elsewhere in Europe there are fewer gay sex workers on the streets, he says, but in Rome they still thrive, in part because of the concentration of priests, who seek out migrants for the anonymity their encounters offer.

More here.