BOOKS: “IN THE CLOSET OF THE VATICAN” – A MANUAL ON WHAT A PRIEST SHOULDN’T BE

Vatican Cardinals Consistory

Cardinals attend a consistory led by Pope Francis to create new cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this June 28, 2018, file photo. The pope announced Sept. 1 that he will create 13 new cardinals at an Oct. 5 consistory. (Paul Haring/CNS) See POPE-NEW-CARDINALS Sept. 1, 2019.

The book In The Closet of The Vatican-Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy[henceforth named in this article as CV-PHH] is the latest instalment – worth mentioning! – in a series of investigative works by journalists and researchers, on the issues raised by the numerous sex scandals that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the last few years. The author, Frederic Martel, is said to have offered a copy of his book to Pope Francis, who reportedly not only actually read it, but more significantly, liked it.

It is perfectly possible that a Pontiff such as Pope Francis, might have liked to read this particular book, notwithstanding the obvious nature of it as an exposé of the Holy See. Frederic Martel is an author and researcher in his field of impeccable credentials. With a PhD in Social Sciences and a number of other degrees in Philosophy, Political Sciences and Law, Martel served the French State at high level, has been active for years in the international conference circuit, giving conferences at all major universities, of which Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Hong Kong and Japan are just some examples. Between 2005 and 2014 he held a post as a Professor at the prestigious Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris, and was a senior researcher at IRIS – Institut de Relations Internationales & Stratégiques. Lastly, since 2014, he is a Senior Researcher on Culture and the Internet at ZHdK University of Zurich (Switzerland). Clearly not the tabloid cheap journalist type, but rather a research figure of calibre and stature. He may have gone down well with Pope Francis’ Jesuit mindset.

Then there is the book itself. It was based on academic enquiry and professional research and it certainly shows. It never sounds cheap, but rather presents the events and facts eloquently, to the point and in a down-to-earth manner. It is a hard read, no doubt. The truth hurts and when presented with impeccable professionalism and accuracy, it hurts even more.

CV-PHH  is the result of painstaking research, a staggering 400 hours of recorded interviews and statements, trips to almost every Country in the World for personal visits to interviewees, collection of huge volumes of data available in reliable sources and much more. As a compilation of accurate facts, author Frederic Martel ensured the book would be hard to beat. A project such as this, which took a number of years to bring to completion, accounts for one of the reasons why the truth hurts and offers such a hard and painful read.

This is not a book produced in a sensationalist style, a meritous achievement for which we should be thankful to Frederic Martel. But the result is harrowingly sensational. One cannot but feel overwhelmed by the facts, stories, events and circumstances reported, the dangerous liaisons with controversial third-party personalities outwith the Holy See,  spectacular faux-pas by high ranking individuals within the Hierarchy, and more… So much more.

The book is not focused on scandal, nor was it clearly the intention of the author to exploit the juicy aspects of scandal. But the fact that it is scandalous all the same, is something we can land at the Holy See’s …….doorstep without fear of committing an injustice. No injustice will be committed, what has been reported in CV-PHH is the scandalous truth. What Public Opinion knows from what has been reported in mainstream Media and the Press is just the tip of the iceberg. I read the book from start to finish in order to be able to review it, and I am deeply sad to state that my jaw dropped in the first 30 pages, and it never recovered its original position until I reached the very last page.

Undeniably, the multiple accounts of Power abuse, power relations with parties external to the Holy See, widespread Same-Sex-Attraction among high ranking Roman Curia prelates, cardinals, bishops, priests and seminarians – one in every four is reportedly gay – and the hypocrisy intrinsically shown in the abysm between what the Roman Catholic Church preaches and what so many within it actually practice, are all laid bare for all to see. Inescapably! Reporting on each individual story is well beyond the scope of my Review herein, to be sure. There are too many, far too many. Nevertheless, the story regarding the  influ-

ence of external Power into the Holy See, for example the close relationships between the German socialite and far-right sympathiser Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis – who is known in the Press as Gloria TNT, alluding to her explosive political stances – and the Ultra-conservative clique of the Holy See; this is a grand example of what the research has shown. Princess Gloria TNT is immensely wealthy, to the tune of billions, and keeps an undisclosed number of high ranking prelates in her “charitable” payroll. Cardinal Robert Sarah is reported to be one of those. Roman Curia hardliners offer their literary and preaching skills at the service of ultra-conservatism; the Princess pays and entertains them at her castle, with servants in full ceremonial livery, walking about holding sterling silver trays of delicious petit-fours baked in the shape of male genitalia. The cardinals savour the sweet taste of penis petit-fours, while discussing with the Princess what’s next in the ultra-conservative agenda. How these prelates reconcile the gaieté of their practises with their official homophobic stances, is indeed anyone’s guess.

In other passages of the book, one finds oneself tossed from the heights of outrage, to the depths of heartfelt sadness and compassion. The stories of seminarians who resort to the paid services of good looking and sexy middle-eastern and eastern-european young male prostitutes is just one of many such stories. Come Friday evening, the seminarians’ cassock and clerical collar comes off, on goes a t-shirt and jeans, and off they go to engage in sex one-night-stands. Apart the shock of seeing the Priesthood as somehow a 9-to-5 job of sorts, what is even more disturbing to the reader is that from the onset, the principles behind the definition of chastity and the concept  of priestly celibacy, are the root cause of the problems, frustrations and inner sadness of many seminarians’ behaviour. Interviews Frederic Martel conducted with some young male prostitutes account precisely for the perceived sadness of many seminarians, perhaps in love with their vocation and the desire to serve as Priests, whilst at the same time frustrated by the constraints of incorrectly defined chastity precepts and celibacy policies, wich run against the grain of Human Nature and these male seminarians, most of them in their prime sexuality-wise, as they are mostly in their early to mid-twenties.

Regardless, upon reading the very last chapter in this extraordinary book, the overall and perhaps most poignantly felt impression was not one of generalised disgust, mistakenly blaming the entire Roman Rite Institution for the errors of a few. The proportionality of the issue must be taken into account, whilst condemning with every fibre in our minds and hearts, the criminal behaviour of those who committed sexual abuse, the hypocritical stance of so many, homophobic in public but gay in private; the absurdity and negligence of insisting on flawed concepts of chastity, sexuality and celibacy. Differentiating between best – or at least good practice – among the overwhelming majority of the Roman Catholic Clergy, and the rotten minority of sex abusers, homophobes and hypocrites, does matter.

But saying a majority of the Roman Catholic Clergy does not cross the red line, cannot serve as an excuse either. The truth is, it only takes ONE abuser, ONE hypocrite, ONE rotten, to bring the whole rules system of Roman Catholic Priesthood into question, as a flawed system, a deeply flawed system calling loud and high for urgent reform. And because, albeit the largest, the Roman Rite is only one of the many churches forming what we call the One Church of Christ, a stain of such a nature on the cloth of the Roman Catholic Clergy ends up spilling over to stain all other churches’ Clergy as well. Unfair it may very well be, but we should not expect the average Member of the Public – whether Faithful or non-believer – to know the difference and be able to distinguish between a Roman Rite Priest and one from another Church. At the end of the day, there is one and only clerical collar to honour, one and only Christ to witness for, one and only Body of Christ – the One Church of Christ I mentioned earlier – to represent, and one and only MISSION to achieve, the remission and salvation of all souls on Earth under the protective and loving wing of Christ Jesus.

Thus, the most important aspect of Frederic Martel’s excellent book is not so much to publish a comprehensive exposé of the many evils presently afflicting the Roman Catholic Church, but rather to reveal itself as a practical treatise on “how not to be a Christian Priest”, and therefore by reverse of what is exposed in the book, become a love letter with what ideally the Christian Priesthood should be, which is to say:

  1. A vocation to serve Christ for sure, but where an appropriate understanding of chastity reaches doctrinal maturity within the context of appropriate and normal Human Sexuality, correctly seen as a normal activity of Human Beings, as intended;
  2. A more mature and comprehensive doctrinal magisterium regarding Same-Sex-Attraction (SSA) as a natural and normal subset of the normal mainstream Opposite-Sex-Attraction (OSA), in effect revisiting and correcting the theological teaching to render it closer to Thomas Aquinas’ view of normality inside normality, ie that SSA feels perfectly normal to SSA people, as OSA feels perfectly normal to OSA people, since neither SSA people nor OSA people feel foreign to their particular natural sexuality;
  3. A complete review of Priestly Celibacy as a compulsory rule, to become an interchangeable option before or after taking up Holy Orders, as is the case already with many Christian and Catholic Churches independent from Rome.

The fundamental lesson to be drawn from this book is that its mission to expose all the wrongdoings is only worthwhile because it teaches what a Christian member of Clergy should not be and, in doing so, points us in the direction of what should be done to fix the problem and restore the Priesthood in the eyes and minds of Public Opinion, Faithful or indeed otherwise.

Many other Churches reformed their Clergy rules with great results. Perhaps it is now time for the largest of all Churches in the once One Church of Christ, to exercise some healthy humility and do the same.

Highly recommended reading. +