Excerpt: ‘In the Closet of the Vatican’

A new book detailing the secret sex life of priests at the Vatican claims that about 80 per cent are homosexual and that the more a prelate criticises homosexuality, the more likely it is he is gay.

Excerpted from In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy, by Frédéric Martel (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019). Reprinted with permission from the author.

‘I don’t love women. Love needs reinventing.’ These standard-bearing phrases, these famous formulas from the manifesto of the young Poet of A Season in Hell, drenched in a mixture of Christ-like and homosexual impulses, can guide us through this epilogue. The reinvention of love may even be the most surprising revelation of this book – the finest and the most optimistic too – and the one with which I would like to conclude this long investigation.

At the heart of the Church, in a highly restricted universe, priests are living out their amorous passions while at the same time renewing gender and imagining new kinds of family.

This is an even better-kept secret than the homosexuality of a large part of the College of Cardinals and the clergy. Beyond the lies and the universal hypocrisy, the Vatican is also an unexpected place of experimentation: new ways of living as a couple are constructed there; new emotional relationships are tried out; new models of the family of the future are explored; preparations are made for the retirement of elderly homosexuals.

At the end of this investigation, five main profiles of priests take shape, encompassing most of our protagonists: the ‘mad virgin’; the ‘infernal husband’; the model of the ‘queen of hearts’; the ‘Don Juan’; and finally the ‘La Mongolfiera’. In this book we have rubbed shoulders with all of these archetypes, whether we have loved or hated them.

The model of the ‘mad virgin’, all asceticism and sublimation, is the one that characterizes Jacques Maritain, François Mauriac, Jean Guitton and perhaps also some recent popes. ‘Thwarted’ homophiles, they have chosen religion in order not to yield to the flesh, and the cassock to escape their inclinations. ‘Loving friendship’ is their natural inclination. We may assume that they have barely moved into action, even though François Mauriac, as we know, had intimate knowledge of other men.

The model of the ‘infernal husband’ is the most repressed: the ‘closeted’ or ‘questioning’ priest is aware of his homosexuality, but is afraid of experiencing it, constantly oscillating between sin and expiation, in a state of great emotional confusion. Sometimes his special friendships lead to action, in turn producing deep crises of conscience. This model of the individual who takes no pleasure in life, who never ceases to worry, is that of many cardinals whom we have met in this book. In these first two models, homosexuality may be a practice, but it is not an identity. The priests in question do not accept or recognize themselves as gay; they even tend, on the contrary, to prove homophobic.

The model of the ‘queen of hearts’ is one of those most frequently encountered: unlike the two previous models, this is a characteristic identity, as indeed it was for Julian Green; it is shared by numerous cardinals and countless Curia priests that I have met. If they can, these priests favour monogamy, often idealized, with the gratifications that go with being faithful to one another. They have long-term relationships and lead a double life, not without a ‘perpetual balance between boys whose beauty damns them, and God, whose goodness absolves them’. They are hybrid creatures, both arch-priests and arch-gays.

The ‘Don Juan pipé’ chases after young men, not skirts: ‘men of pleasure’. Some cardinals and bishops that we have mentioned are perfect examples of this category: they burn their candles at both ends and are happy to make passes at all and sundry, with their famous list of ‘one thousand and three’ of the impenitent courtier, within the normal rules. And sometimes off the beaten track. (The types ‘mad virgin’, ‘infernal husband’ and ‘queen of hearts’ are borrowed from the Poet Rimbaud; the ‘Don Juan pipé’ from the Poem ‘Don Juan pipé’, by his lover, Verlaine.)

Finally, the model ‘La Mongolfiera’ is that of perversion or prostitution networks: it is the model, par excellence, of the appalling Cardinal La Mongolfiera, but also of Cardinal Platinette and several other cardinals and Curia bishops. (Here I am leaving aside the few rare cardinals who are truly asexual and chaste; those heterosexuals who have relationships according to one of the previous models, but with a woman – who are also large in number, but are not the subject of this book. It should also be said that there is the category of sexual predators, such as Father Marcial Maciel, who elude any objective classification.)

So we can see: homosexual profiles vary greatly within the Catholic Church, even though the great majority of prelates in the Vatican and the characters in this book may be placed in one or other of these groups. I notice two constants. On the one hand, the majority of these priests have nothing to do with ‘ordinary love’; their sex life can be restrained or exaggerated, closeted or dissolute, and sometimes all of these things at once, but it is rarely banal. On the other hand, a certain fluidity remains: the categories are not as hermetic as I have described them; they represent a whole spectrum, a continuum, and some gender-fluid priests move from one group to the other in the course of their lives, between two worlds, as if in limbo. However, several categories are missing or rare in the Vatican: true transsexuals are as good as non-existent, and bisexuals seem to be unrepresented. In the ‘LGBT’ world of the Vatican, there are hardly any ‘B’s or ‘T’s, only ‘L’s and a huge crowd of ‘G’s. (I haven’t mentioned lesbianism in this book, because I wasn’t able to carry out my inquiry in a very discreet world where you probably have to be female to have good access, but I would suggest, on the basis of several statements, that female religious life in the closet is as dominated by the prism of lesbianism as the life of the male clergy is by the gay question.)

If homosexuality is the rule and heterosexuality is the exception in the Catholic priesthood, that doesn’t mean that it is accepted as a collective identity. Even though it is the norm ‘by default’, it seems like a very individualized ‘practice’, so hidden and ‘closeted’ that it translates neither into a way of life nor into a culture. The homosexuals in the Vatican and the clergy are innumerable, but they do not form a community, and therefore they cannot have a lobby. They are not ‘gays’ in the proper sense of the word, if we understand that to mean accepted homosexuality, lived collectively. But they have common codes and references. Those of The Closet.

Excerpted from In the Closet of the Vatican by Frédéric Martel. Copyright © Frédéric Martel, 2019. All rights reserved.

Frédéric Martel is a French sociologist and researcher. He has a PhD in Social Sciences and four Master Degrees in Law, Political science, Philosophy, and Social Science (University La Sorbonne). He is the author of ten books. His website is fredericmartel.com. Follow him on Twitter @martelf and Facebook.

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