Book Review: In the Closet of the Vatican – Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy

Rating: 4 out of 5.

National Catholic Reporter
“[An] earth-shaking exposé of clerical corruption.”

Andrea Gagliarducci, Catholic News Agency, Catholic World Report
“The controversial new book by French author and LGBT activist Frederic Martel presents innuendos, but not evidence or documents. It is a gossip-filled, romanticized book, but does not present itself as a scholarly or objective account.”

Scot McKnight, Author and theologian, Christianity Today
“The deepest problem in the Vatican – Pope Francis and the Curia – is less its theology than its praxis, and by praxis I mean at least the last three popes, including Francis, have seemingly known about and covered up molestation of minors. That’s not all they have covered up.”


“Behind rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life.”

Pope Francis

The Rundown

Frederic Martel’s expose In The Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy sets off to uncover more so the dynamics of hypocritical clerics than ousting homosexuals behind the cloth. His intent in this 500-plus page behemoth of a book is to uncover the prolific duplicity certain pious leaders within the Vatican live with, from steering mass in the morning and soliciting the services of male prostitutes in the dark of night. 

Aidan Johnson of the Globe and Mail corroborates the level of rigor that Martel put into this project.

“The research is damning because it’s credible. Martel researched his book full-time for four years. His 1,500 interviews included conversations with 42 cardinals, 52 bishops or high-ranking prelates, 11 Swiss Guards and 45 Holy See diplomats, in 30 countries. For significant periods of time, Martel actually stayed on Vatican grounds, supplied with apartments by gay priests eager to help the work. Some of his interview subjects provide information because they have axes to grind. Others simply yearn to be free.”

And I agree with Martel’s approach because his project was a monumental and Bondesque world-traveling information gathering process. If one fails to find interest in the content of this book they must at least make time to admire the level of effort that was put into it. 

“Apart from the Vatican City and Italy,” Martel acknowledges. “I have carried out investigations in about thirty other countries to which I traveled for the purposes of research: Argentina (Buenos Aires, San Miguel; 2014, 2017), Belgium (Brussels, Mons; several stays between 2015 and 2018), Bolivia (La Paz; 2015), Brazil (Belem, Brasilia, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo; 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018), Chile (Salvador; 2014, 2017), Colombia (Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin; 2014, 2015, 2017), Cuba (Havana; 2014, 2015, 2016), Ecuador (Quito; 2015), Egypt (Alexandria, Cairo; 2014, 2015), Germany (several visits to Berlain, Frankfurt, Munich and Regensburg; 2015-18), Hong Kong (2014, 2015), India (New Delhi; 2015), Israel (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Dead Sea; 2015, 2016), Japan (Tokyo; 2016), Jordan (Amman; 2016), Lebanon (Beirut, Bkreke; 2015, 2017), Mexico (Guadalajara, Mexico City, Monterey, Puebla, Veracruz, Xalapa; 2014, 2016, 2018), Palestine (Gaza, Ramallah; 2015, 2016), Peru (Arequipa, Lima; 2014, 2015), the Netherlands (Amsterdam; several visits between 2015 and 2018), Poland (Krakow, Warsaw; 2013, 2018), Portugal (Lisbon, Porto; 2016, 2017), Saudi Arabia (Riyadh; 2018), Spain (Barcelona, Madrid; many visits between 2015 and 2018), Switzerland (Basel, Coire, Geneva, Illnau-Effretikon, Lausanne, Lucerne, Lucerne, St. Gallen and Zurich; several visits between 2015 and 2018), Tunisia (Tunis; 2018), United Arab Emirates (Dubai; 2016), United Kingdom (London; several visits 2014 and 2018),  Uruguay (Montevideo; 2017), United States (Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington; 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018). Also before the beginning of this investigation, I traveled to about twenty other countries, including Algeria, Canada, Cameroon, China, Denmark, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Venezuela, Vietnam etc., which also provided useful information.”

I don’t believe Martel needed to travel to nearly forty different countries to provide us with an in-depth look into the homosexual orientation and lifestyle of Catholic priests. A quick Google search and a trip to the nearest seminary would have been enough. But this may have added to his cultural diversity and approachability when working as a journalist to extract information from people without seeming like a bore or a pest. Some say travel broadens the mind and it does, it also allows one to have an air of study and knowledge when speaking with them as if we gather knowledge from their travel, which is a medium of therapy. Perhaps his lengthy resume opened the avenues for him to not only travel to the Vatican but also reside there for some time, at their request, and to conduct his research and later, his expose.  

“The Closet is based on rigorously precise quotations and sources. Most of the interviews were recorded, with the agreement of my interlocutors, or carried out in the presence of a researcher or translator, who was witness to them; all in all, I have almost four hundred hours of recordings. The quotations, in line with typical journalistic practice, have been reproduced verbatim.”

A Bone to Pick?

Martel admits that his philosophical approach to the world is ‘secular’ and he credits himself to be an ‘atheist’ and that these serve no purpose in determining how he manages his investigations. Again, he claims that the purpose of this book is not to expose gay clerics but to expose the hypocrisy of those who claim piety in the face of most putrid indifference to their private lives that oft demonstrate how morally bankrupt they truly are. Again, I don’t believe one’s worldview interferes with their critique of an opposite or opposing worldview since they check their biases at the door, as I believe Martel, in his journalistic enterprise and drive, does and does so well in this piece. 

“Whether they are ‘practicing’, ‘homophile’, ‘initiates’, ‘unstraights’, ‘worldly’, ‘versatile’, ‘questioning’, or simply gay is beyond comprehension. The intimate stories of these men who give an image of piety in public and lead a quite different life in private, so different from one another, present us with a complex intrigue to unravel. Never, perhaps, have the appearances of an institution been so deceptive; and equally deceptive are the pronouncements about celibacy and the vows of chastity that conceal a completely different reality.”

No wonder Martel quotes Pope Francis on this topic of contradiction and hypocrisy within the Curia, the Vatican, the Swiss Guard, and Cardinal staff by stating:

“Behind rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life.”

In this case, it is a double life of pious heterosexuality from the pulpit but voracious homosexual clerics who prey on newcomers, children, and young men who cannot consent to their advances; and also on other willing and at times unwilling homosexual adult clerics within the Vatican. From Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, Washington State, and yes, right under the Pope’s nose, the men of the cloth are also men of leather, nightclubs, and unrestrained sexual exploits. 

Martel does not denounce nor does he find a reason to denounce homosexuality, bi-sexuality, trans or non-binary ideologues. In this book, he states that he has nothing against the orientation of such individuals. He found that the more gay-friendly a priest is the more heterosexual he was and the more hostile to homosexuality a priest sounded the higher the chances he was bedding young men at night. 

It is the latter that he denounces because their hypocrisy, according to Martel, is deceptive of an institution and deceptive of celibacy, hetero, or homosexual in nature. 

He ends his introduction of this 500 plus page behemoth by quoting a priest and friend of his who welcomed him into the Vatican with these words:


“Welcome to Sodoma!”

Contents

  1. Part I: Francis
    1. Domus Sanctae Marthae
    2. Gender Theory
    3. Who Am I To Judge?
    4. Buenos Aires
    5. The Synod
    6. Roma Termini
  2. Part II: Paul
    1. The Maritain Code
    2. Loving Friendship
  3. Part III: John Paul
    1. The Sacred College
    2. The Legion of Christ
    3. The Ring of Lust
    4. The Swiss Guard
    5. The Crusade Against Gays
    6. The Pope’s Diplomacy
    7. Strange Household
    8. Rouco
    9. CEI (Italian Episcopal Conference)
    10. Seminarians
  4. Part IV: Benedict
    1. Passivo e Bianco
    2. The Vice-Pope
    3. Dissidents
    4. VatiLeaks
    5. The Abdication

14 Rules of the Closet

Martel elegantly produces a list of rules that priests, clerics, cardinals, and pseudo-pious seminarians with a homosexual orientation have fashioned to better understand themselves within this environment. Rules that define modes, define methods, define people and their actions, their reactions which are at times an indication of something else, something nefarious hidden beneath. These rules can be seen at work to this very day from the Papal seat down to the choir boy, people who are taught and indoctrinated to behave in a certain way to repress their sexual desires and emotional wants and in the process exhibit certain traits that betray their duplicitous lifestyle.

  1. For a long time the priesthood was the ideal escape-route for young homosexuals. Homosexuality is one of the keys to their vocation. (8)
  2. Homosexuality spreads the closer one gets to the holy of holies; there are more and more homosexuals as one rises through the Catholic hierarchy. In the College of Cardinals and at the Vatican, the preferential selection process is said to be perfected; homosexuality becomes the rule, heterosexuality the exception. (10)
  3. The more vehemently opposed a cleric is to gays, the stronger his homophobic obsession, the more likely it is that he is insincere, and that his vehemence conceals something. (34)
  4. The more pro-gay a cleric is, the less likely he is to be gay; the more homophobic a cleric is, the more likely he is to be homosexual. (41)
  5. Rumours, gossip, settling of scores, revenge and sexual harassment are rife in the holy see. The gay question is one of the mainsprings of these plots. (60)
  6. 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 event 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. (92)
  7. The most gay-friendly cardinals, bishops and priests, the ones who talk little about the homosexual question, are generally heterosexual. (123)
  8. In prostitution in Rome between priests and Arab escorts, two sexual poverties come together: the profound sexual frustration of Catholic priests is echoed in the constraints of Islam, which make heterosexual acts outside of marriage difficult for a young Muslim. (129)
  9. The homophiles of the Vatican generally move from chastity towards homosexuality; homosexuals never go into reverse gear and become homophilic. (169)
  10. Homosexual priests and theologians are much more inclined to impose priestly celibacy than their heterosexual co-religionists. They are very concerned to have this vow of chastity respected, even though it is intrinsically against nature. (176-177)
  11. Most nuncios are homosexual, but their diplomacy is essentially homophobic. They are denouncing what they are themselves. As for cardinals, bishops and priests, the more they travel, the more suspect they are! (311)
  12. Rumours peddled about the homosexuality of a cardinal or a prelate are often leaked by homosexuals, themselves closeted, attacking their liberal opponents. They are essential weapons used in the Vatican against gays by gays. (388)
  13. Do not ask who the companions of cardinals and bishops are; ask their secretaries, their assistants or their protégés, and you will be able to tell the truth by their reaction. (537)
  14. We are often mistaken about the loves of priests, and about the number of people with whom they have liaisons: when we wrongly interpret friendships as liaisons, which is an error by addition; but also when we fail to imagine friendships as liaisons, which is another kind of error, this time by subtraction. (538)

In all, Martel makes reference to several key members of the Curia and leadership who have served under Popes, paraded homilies of the highest sanctity, enacted doctrinal rules of the strictest demands, and portrayed piety so aloof even John the Baptist would have envied it. 

These characters, however, were at the same time consumed by animalistic desires to consume one another sexually. Some served under dictators who would later command the death of other clergy and laity members. One cardinal welcomed and lauded a white supremacist nationalist from the highest office of the United States of America to the Vatican. Others disseminated unscientific thoughts about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, thus leading to a wider spread of the virus behind the veil. 

There’s so much duplicity at work within the Curia that one must wonder if the church serves to preserve morality or participate in its dissolution. 

Trujillo

Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo is accused of berating his staff, of lurching onto young men, without their consent, of course, in an attempt to woo them into his chambers. His travels costing the church thousands of dollars that would eventually be spent on his licentious depravity, whilst condemning his security detail should they ever bring him a black boy to ravage. He was a proliferous solicitor of male prostitutes, sadistically mistreating them every chance he got. Trujillo was not only sexually bankrupt but his racism accentuated his already tattered record of presumed piety. He spared not the church’s funds to bank his escapades and the church spared not a penny in covering up his unchaste lifestyle. 

Burke

Cardinal Leo Raymond Burke is a staunch traditionalist activist of the neo-conservative Curia who disdains talk of homosexuality, condemning even the thought of revisiting the topic of sexual orientation within church doctrine. His vapid religious animosity toward gays was not his only sin but also his disgust and distaste for immigrants. He welcomed white supremacist propagandist and then former white house chief strategist Steve Bannon with open arms to discuss the national integrity of the Vatican and Italy. The influx of Syrian migrants into Europe was a problem for these types and they gathered to form a symbiosis of toxic masculinity, flamboyance, and racist nationalism. 

Burke, a high-ranking official of the Vatican, would at times dress to a standard higher and more luxurious than the Pope, unwilling to succumb to the pauper-like status of modern-day church laity. Not only was he adorned to resemble the queen of England but his style was more like the queen of Flamboyantlandia. Martel states that Burke would be better suited for RuPaul’s runway than behind a seat of power within the Curia. 

Maciel, Pell, Gröer, and McCarrick

Martel makes reference to the putrid culture of sexual secrecy running rampant within the Vatican and stretching throughout the world. Covering the disgraced and only recently denounced pedophile rapist priests, Marcial Maciel, George Pell, Hans Gröer, and Theodore E. McCarrick, he reminds the reader that people knew of these crimes committed against children and adult seminarians but opted for secrecy to protect the image of the Holy Catholic Church. 

“The pope was much more critical about pro-gay Catholic association than about the multi-recidivist paedophile cardinal Hans Gröer. He wasn’t even reduced to layman status!” Martel quotes a German-speaking theologian. 

AIDS, Condoms, and Racism

Martel covers a dark and embarrassingly unscientific approach the church took when managing, perhaps, aggressively setting themselves back in the dark ages by condemning the use of condoms in Africa as a means to combat or better yet, lose the fight against the HIV/AIDS virus that raged across the world. A virus that took innumerable lives in Africa. This was an egregious and regrettable approach by the church to prevent the spread of the virus. By instilling fear in church members stating that using condoms in the spike of a pandemic concerning a virus that is sexually transmitted would decay the morals of the Universal Church. To affirm the use of protection during intercourse was to promote fornication, according to the church. This was an utmost hypocritical stance because priests were also succumbing to the virus because they had followed the church’s edict and engaged in dangerous promiscuous habits that in turn made them sick. 

“Openly gay, HIV positive and living with my boyfriend.” Are the words of Angel Mendez of the Jesuit Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, Mexico.  

“The actual number of AIDS deaths is difficult to determine. But it appears priests are dying of AIDS at a rate at least four times that of the general U.S. population,” said Judy L. Thomas, writer for the Knight-Ridder and Chicago Tribune in a January 2000 article. “The deaths are of such concern to the church that most dioceses and religious orders now require applicants for the priesthood to take an HIV-antibody test before their ordination.”

“In one long interview, the pope (Benedict XVI) returns at length to the huge global controversy provoked by his obscurantist words about AIDS (on his first trip to Africa, he had declared that the distribution of condoms was ‘aggravating’ the epidemic). So the pope set about correcting his words, to make himself more easily understood. And all of a sudden, in his reply, he says: ‘There may be individual cases, for example when a [male] prostitute uses a condom, when that may become the first step towards moralisation … But it is not the true way of responding to the evil of the HIV virus. The correct response lies necessarily in the humanisation of sexuality.’” Martel quotes the pope in this embarrassing approach to combat and diminish the number of HIV infections. 
“Uttered verbally and reread when written down, the phrase has been validated twice as such (I have checked the original, and it is written with a masculine article, ‘ein Prostituierter’, pp. 146-7 in the German edition). … I have lost count of the number of priests, bishops, journalists, or gay militants who have quoted this phrase to me, whether embarrassed or radiant sometimes indeed bursting out laughing. This double slip is probably one of the most revealing confessions in the whole history of Catholicism.” Martel concludes.

Concluding Thoughts

Martel goes on to quote another cleric who states, “The Vatican is a theocracy, it is also a gerontocracy.” A society run and governed by its senior-most population. Other clerics accuse a pope of being a “Michelangelo addict.” Alluding to the artists’ obsession with art that portrays young naked men in distress, in pain, tied up to trees, and vulnerable. These paintings littered the walls of certain clerics. Some state that certain popes had what is termed a Ring of Lust of cardinals who exhibited the most depraved forms of sexual deviance whilst being so close to the papal seat of power. There are rumors that Joseph Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth, which he emphatically denied. This being one of many times the Vatican and its posse are accused of bedding the Nazis before and during the war. Martel makes mention of the Swiss Guard soliciting the services of male prostitutes outside the Vatican walls and exchanging the same sort of services within the walls with other guards, for free. He alludes to how the progressive closeted homophilic members of the Curia used liberation theology as a platform to promote their own gay or queer theology in the United States of America.

The list goes on, the public backlash inevitable when the institution that swore to uphold moral standards lives by the opposite behind the cassock. 

Martel and I agree that whenever you force people into a structure where they are sexually repressed, forced into celibacy, unable of understanding their sexuality, introduced to a poor understanding of sexuality, there, in the midst of repression of nature and the oppression of the mind, you find all sorts of evils proliferating from the highest levels of the Catholic echelon to the lowest entry parishioner. 

I have my personal qualms with enforced or coerced celibacy. I believe the practice to be ridiculous and dated. Perhaps dangerous. But again, when this choice is made by an individual outside of the confines of an institution in willful devotion to rites, for the benefit of their fellow man, in full display of love for a cause for the betterment of society without demonstrating the slightest suspicion of sexual depravity, then yes, I might back it. But what these institutions, the Catholic Church, in particular, are doing is forcing young boys and girls into a pattern of life they do not fully understand the sacrifice of and when they are incensed with the natural desires of human beings for sexual fulfillment and shamed for wanting to act upon said desires they find others means by which to quench that flame. Often, harmful ones.

Furthermore, I agree with Martel when he traces the line of gay men who joined the priesthood as a means to escape ostracization from conservative, traditionalist, machismo-centric, and homophobic communities. These young men did not know how to cope with their orientation, their feelings, their proclivities, and in fear of being harassed, of becoming victims of assault or homicide they joined the only institution where they could hide their identity, be respected, and have a following, a voice; the Catholic Church. 

In quoting Pope Francis on the continual and all too revealing topic of rigidity within the Curia, he states in a now well-circulated homily:

“The Law was not drawn up to enslave us but to set us free, to make us God’s children … Concealed by rigidity there is always something else! That’s why Jesus uses the word ‘hypocrites!’ … Behind an attitude of rigidity there is always something else in the life of a person. Rigidity is not a gift of God. Meekness is; goodness is; benevolence is; forgiveness is. But rigidity isn’t! … In many cases, rigidity conceals the leading of a double life; there can also be something pathological. …. They appear good because they follow the Law; but they are concealing something else: either they are hypocritical or they are sick. And they suffer!”

He finishes this scathing homily with a prayer.

“Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters who think that by becoming rigid they are following the path of the Lord.  May the Lord make them feel that He is our Father and that He loves mercy, tenderness, goodness, meekness, humility. And may he teach us all to walk in the path of the Lord with these attitudes.” 

And of those who approach the Catholic Church, the Curia, the priesthood, service to God and neighbor, that in that area you may find transparency and humility. That you may find God, find the truth. 

Because as the Pope states, from within the Vatican, and as Martel observes from without, is that the more rigid a leader, a cleric, a cardinal, a bishop is the higher the chances he or she is hiding something. Indeed, they are sick and suffering in hiddenness. In hypocrisy. 

We’re past the time for the church to shed light on this blemish of hypocrisy and continual protection of abusers. 
But in light of how Martel’s book was received by the Vatican and like entities, the welcome mat into the Vatican will continue to say, “Welcome to Sodoma!”

RSDB (Read, Share, Dismiss, or Burn) Verdict:

Read and share. But take caution.

This is a sensitive topic that ventured into without sympathy, empathy and compassion, one will do more damage to the conversation than progress.

Four stars because of the level of commitment and devotion Martel and his team took to bring this expose into the limelight.

Frederic Martel (PhD) is a French writer and researcher. He is also a journalist at National Public Radio and the author of ten books, which have been translated and published in more than 25 countries. He lives in Paris.

In the Closet of the Vatican is published simultaneously in eight languages. (From the book).


“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

Nathanial Hawthorne

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