Review of Frederic Martel’s In The Closet of the Vatican

image of the vatican

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In The Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy
New York: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019

For many years, during the John Paul II and Benedict XVI papacies, I would tell audiences that we were living through the “most corrupt papacy since the Borgias.” Little did I know of what I spoke.

I had no idea the Vatican of those recent papacies was as gross as is laid out in the recently released book In the Closet of the Vatican by French reporter Frederic Martel. In my book that I wrote in 2011 about the 34 years of the JPII and Benedict XVI papacies, The Pope’s War: How Ratzinger’s Crusade Imperiled the Church and What Can Be Saved, I recounted the Vatican cozying up to dictators in Latin America and its doing the dirty work of the CIA beginning under Reagan to destroy and decimate base communities and Liberation theology there. I wrote of the founding of a New Inquisition that banished or exiled 108 theologians (of which I was only one among 107 others, all of whom I name in my book) and the literal destruction of theology in the church. I wrote of the notorious hypocrisy around matters of sexual conduct, the elevation of “Yes” men as bishops and cardinals and the obvious projection going on about homosexuality and the whipping up of homophobic hysteria. I wrote of the misogyny and sexism toward women and the continued refusal to include them in decision making and leadership. I recorded the destruction of the process of canonization by doing away with the role of the “devil’s advocate” and thus paving the way for canonizing of people like the fascist and rabidly sexist founder of Opus Dei, Josemaria Escriva and others since (including John Paul II). Indeed, the incestuous canonizing of one another!

And I laid out the scandals around the currying of favor with the notorious Father Maciel who, while donating untold sums of cash to cardinals in the Curia through his fundraising for his Legion of Christ order, sexually abused numerous teenaged boys in his famous seminaries while also having two wives on the side and several children whom he sexually abused and who was feted time and again by JP II and other powerful people in the Vatican. I wrote of great theologians and human beings such as Bernard Haring and Bishop Casaldaliga and Cardinal Arns and Leonardo Boff and Archbishop Romero and Father Jim Callen and others who were treated shamelessly by the Vatican.[1]

image of religious cardinals But with Martel’s book, In The Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy, which appeared simultaneously in eight languages two months ago, new dimensions of Vatican nefariousness are laid bare, dimensions that will undoubtedly draw considerable media attention because of its abundance of salacious details.

Yet it is all of one woof and one needs to consider the whole darkness and not just a part.

I recall visiting St Peter’s basilica a number of years ago with a friend who was there for the first time and, having exited the basilica and standing outside by the giant pillars designed by Michelangelo that form a familiar ring about the place, he said to me: “I don’t feel an ounce of spirituality in this place. Nothing like what I felt at Chartres Cathedral in France. In fact, I feel evil spirits.” An exact observation from a Roman Catholic Native American who visited Rome to support the canonization of Blessed Tekekwitha several years earlier, the first Native American saint. On returning to the States this woman, shaking her head, declared, “There are evil spirits in that place.”

This book offers a full menu of the evil spirits and their seizing of the souls of churchmen very high on the hierarchical ladder, very much in charge of running the church, church men as much committed to addiction to power as to sex (sometimes repressed, sometimes not). As neglectful of their vows as they are loud about their version of sexual morality—one that preaches non-stop the horrors of birth control, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, abortion, divorce—it seems the more noise they make about pelvic morality the more deeply in the closet they hide.

One of the many interesting observations offered by the author, who interviewed thousands of priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals—many of whom were most obliging in tattling on one another—is that the heterosexual hierarchy, who are in a distinct minority in the Vatican, are more respectful of homosexuals than are the homosexuals. When Pope Francis has attempted—as in calling a Synod to reform church views about marriage and the family and homosexuality or in his pastoral letter Amoris laetitia, the loudest objections have come from the right wing in the curia, many of whom feature prominently in Martel’s book as closeted gays.

An obvious case of self-hatred and projection abounds everywhere in the organization. Pope Francis is among those rare heterosexual prelates in the Vatican (about 20% according to the author) and the extreme right wing—whose fire-breathing dragon of orthodoxy Cardinal Burke, once top man in St Louis diocese and is the lightening rod for the constant attacks on Pope Francis—stops at nothing to tear him down. One has to feel for the Pope at the top of an organization like this.

Let us consider just a few of the notable characters who stand out in this book.

John Paul II

From early in his pontificate John Paul II waged a veritable war against homosexuals, “a war that John Paul II would lose,” according to Martel (p. 274). His “entourage hurled itself into a new crusade against gays” and he soon became “one of the most homophobic popes in the history of the Church.” (273) Yet he seemed “to tolerate well the omnipresence of homosexuals in his entourage. There were so many of them, and so many who were practicing, among his ministers and his assistants, that he could not have been unaware of their ways of life….Why allow such a system of hypocrisy to take root? “ (273)

In addition to the notorious Father Maciel whom he was supportive of right up to his own death, another one of these very close to John Paul II was the notorious Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo whom we will discuss below. Trujillo himself was beloved by secretaries of state Angelo Sodano and then Tarcisio Bertone whom we will discuss below. Trujillo “was a man of networks and money. He was violent, choleric, hard. He was one of the people who ‘made’ Benedict XVI, on whose election he spent abundantly, with a campaign that was very well organized and financed,” comments an eminent Vaticanologist. (289)

Martel describes in some detail what he calls the “ring of lust” that surrounded John Paul II in the form of bishops and others who chased after young Swiss Guards, hired prostitutes on a regular basis, recruited luxury escorts, cruised outside the Vatican at public parks and yet “as cardinals, they enjoyed diplomatic immunity, and were also protected at the highest level of the Vatican as friends of the pope and his ministers.” (257) Yet these same high flying prelates “are now part of the opposition to Pope Francis; they harshly criticize any proposals he makes that are favorable to homosexuals, and demand ever greater chastity—even though they have practiced it so little themselves.” (260) Several of these busy members of “the rings of lust that developed under John Paul II” also found themselves “at the centre of financial scandals.” (264) How else pay for their extracurricular activities on a clerical salary?

About Cardinal Burke

Martel visited Cardinal Burke’s lavish apartment and being waiting a long time wandered about his lavish apartment. (It seems Burke was delayed because he was being reprimanded by Pope Francis and stripped of his title as head of the Tribunal or “supreme court” of the Vatican). Martel recounts what he saw walking through the many closets and eyeing the cherished wardrobes there. In the bathroom, “a strange wet room worthy of a deluxe spa resort, and heated like a sauna,” were luxury soaps, with their subtle perfumes, arranged in the Japanese style. “The toilet paper is new, and set in a protective cover that guarantees its immaculate purity.” Hatboxes galore contain “the cardinal’s headdresses, his fake fur coats and his red trapezoid outfits. I feel as if I’m behind the scene of the film Fellini’s Roma when they are preparing the extravagant ecclesiastical fashion parade.” A photo shows him decked out in his cappa magna a photo looking “like a Viking bride!!” all regaled in “his full plumage.” A train reaches a length of 12 meters. Rightly does he play the role of the “diva cardinal; the dandy cardinal; the drama-queen cardinal.”

Burke “always appears surrounded by obsequious chaperones and page boys carrying the long red train of his cappa magna, as choirboys might for a bride…. There are no adjectives to describe the cardinal draped in his female attire.”

The photos “must be seen to be believed. Looking at them, you start imagining the Vatican in a different light. Laughing at Burke is almost too easy!” Burke insists on still wearing a big red hat with tassels that was abandoned by almost all prelates after 1965. At the age of 70, says the author, wearing it makes him look “like a vindictive old woman.” But at the Order of Malta, to which the pope demoted him, the medieval ritualistic sect welcomes him in all his finery. Evidently the pope felt he would be more at home there than in the Vatican.

Cardinal Burke “is the very thing he denounces” a cleric close to Francis states starkly. Yet he is “anti-gay and rages against homosexuality.” He is the prime spokesperson for the “traditionalist” and homophobes in the Curia. He preaches that you should not “invite gay couples to family gathers when children are present” and homosexual couples are like “the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people.” He denounces the pope for trying to alter the homophobic teachings of the church and calls homosexuality a “grave sin” and “intrinsically disordered.” Same sex marriage is “an act of defiance against God” that derives from Satan. Martel comments that “in Rome, Burke is like a bull in a china shop: his homophobia is so intense that it even disturbs the most homophobic Italian cardinals….His misogyny is unsettling. The Italian press mocks his blue-stocking pretensions, his crocus-coloured dresses and his lacy Catholicism” while Burke “goes literally mad” one Vatican priest observed, with Pope Francis because he is a “pope who doesn’t wear red shoes or eccentric outfits.” (26-31)

Is this good news, to hear that the prime opponent of Pope Francis is a raging drag queen when not despising all things and all theology more recent than the 17th century? Maybe it is for it demonstrates on what thin ice these prelates are skating in their efforts to turn back the clock, to undo the Second Vatican Council and completely hide its head in the sand vis-a-vis twenty-first century science, while it opposes reform at all costs.

Remember too that one of Cardinal Burke’s closest allies is Stephen Bannon—yes, that Stephen Bannon, the right hand man to Donald Trump who many believe was the brains behind Trump’s successful if improbable election with the special emphasis on race baiting and the appeal to nationalism and the so-called all white past “great again” when Europe was a place of seemingly all white (and all Christian) culture. A Theocon, a “theo-fascist,” he and Cardinal Burke met at the Vatican in 2014. They hit it off and “bonded over their shared world view including an apocalyptic vision of Islam” that threatened “to overrun a prostrate West weakened by the erosion of traditional Christian values.” Currently Bannon, expelled from the White House by Donald Trump, wanders Europe trying to link far right wing nationalistic causes and financiers for those causes. Among the latter are many very well financially endowed aristocrats and wannabes of the lost era of Catholic nobility. One such benefactress is described in some detail. A new movie, The Brink, has been made of Mr. Bannon.

 About Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo

Cardinal Burke and his friends are not the only ones who deserve a special spotlight for their unique version of power and religion. Consider Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo of Columbia. In my Pope’s War book I pointed out that not only was he a rabid denouncer of base communities and liberation theology but that he was allied with the drug cartels of his country. One day he telephoned Penny Lernoux a very respected North American Catholic journalist who lived in South America for over thirty years reporting on the church and liberation theology there. She told me face to face the following story. The phone call from Cardinal Trujillo’s secretary went like this: “I know when your daughter leaves for school and returns every day.”  Penny and her husband, not naïve about this rather unveiled threat, packed up all their belongings and came back to the US within a week ending abruptly a stay of over 34 years in South America. Shortly afterwards this cardinal was called to Rome to be ‘elevated’ to be President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. (Yes!)

Martel offers more sauce to the story. It turns out that Trujillo’s hatred for the justice-oriented church was so severe that he used to ride around in a car along with military personnel to visit the barrios and slums where he would point out the priests who lived among the poor, call them “communists,” and they would be dead within a few days. At the same time that he was overseeing tortures and murders of priests and others living among the poor and denouncing theologians who speak of economic and social justice and threatening to kill the children of journalists, he was spending nights frolicking sexually with underage boys, seminarians, and male prostitutes whom he would often beat “out of pure sadism” as one knowledgeable observer reported. He had a special apartment set aside for these encounters in Bogata. (292)

Yes, a fascist and murderer by day and a pedophile and sadist by night was made head of the Congregation of the Family where he led “the crusade against gays” that was waged under John Paul II. His “anti-gay obsession” sat well with his superiors it seems as from his “war room” as head of the Congregation on the Family he spearheaded denunciations of condoms (which he told Africans in the midst of the AIDS crisis is “not a solution”), abortion and homosexuality all the time being “frighteningly misogynistic.” (287)

Sodano and Bertone, Two Secretaries of State for Two Popes

Angelo Sodano, secretary of state from 1990 – 2006 was hand picked by John Paul II who apparently had no qualms that he was very close to the Chilean dictator Pinochet during his years as nuncio to Chile. This tells you all you need to know about his politics and his attitude to liberation theology for example. Sodano was conspicuously silent for years about pedophile priests including the notorious Father Maciel but rabidly loud about no gay unions or gay marriage. Sodano convinced John Paul II to create the Opus Dei Bishop Cipriani in Peru a cardinal.

Who was Cipriani? A “viscerally homophobic” prelate who called homosexuals “adulterated and damaged good” and compared gay marriage to the Holocaust (yes). Yet when a bishop was accused of sexual abuse Cipriani came to his defense. (342) Far right politically, he waged war against liberation theology while delivering many anti-gay speeches in Peru. Upon becoming pope, Benedict XVI replaced Sodano as secretary of state, a decision that he did not take gracefully, attacking Ratzinger’s pontificate with a vengeance.

Is it any wonder that Martel speaks of an “irrational and dizzying history of this crazed commitment against gay marriage…[that] reveals an army of homophilic priests and closeted homosexual prelates who, day after day, would mobilize against another army of ‘openly gay’ activists. The war over gay marriage was, more than ever, a battle between homosexuals.” (342)

Whom did Pope Benedict appoint as his new secretary of state? Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who, among other things, is famous for purchasing the most famous gay sauna in all of Rome(!). Bertone was not to be outdone in his denouncing of homosexuals. He publicly proclaimed that “there is a connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem.” (465) International outrage followed.

He also made headlines around a extravagant penthouse he created as his home by knocking down and linking together two previous apartments. His palazzo of 350 square meters cost 200,000 euros that he derived from money earmarked for a children’s hospital. Pope Francis demanded he return the money to the children’s hospital. But Bertone may be most remembered for having penned a fawning preface to a book by the notorious Marcial Maciel whom he praises unabashedly.

Benedict XVI

And what about Cardinal Ratzinger or Benedict XVI who appointed Bertone and who presided over the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith and while doing so barely did anything to oppose pedophile priests? “The gayest pontificate in history” says one priest who worked with Ratzinger for a long time. It was “difficult to be heterosexual under Benedict XVI” remarked a Curia priest who described the pope’s entourage as “fifty shades of gay.” (470)   Amidst all this sexual intrigue, Benedict and Company unleashed war “against gays, condoms and civil partnerships” talking non stop about such matters in letters, bulls, public lectures, etc. While “no pope in modern history has been so anti-gay,” also no pope ever witnessed such a rapid movement in favor of gay rights –almost 39 countries would recognize marriage between people of the same sex including Germany his home country during his years on the papal throne. Under his papacy “the Vatican manipulated all the antigay marriage demonstrations” in Italy and beyond. (474)

Said a former priest: “I feel deep sadness when I think about Benedict’s pontificate, one of the darkest moments of the Church, in which homophobia represented a constant and desperate attempt to conceal the very existence of homosexuality.” (470)

So much cynicism reigns in this perverted hierarchy that keeps the system going by reserving for itself the right to name bishops, archbishops and cardinals all over the world. Often in their own image. Always with barely a murmur of “No.” Yes men made after the same cloth. Now we know why the pedophile crisis in the church has so rarely been attended to by the hierarchy. So many secrets to keep. So many secrets to keep hidden, secrets that will become very personal if exposed.

Among the many revelations in this book is the make-up of the dreaded “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” or CDF (formerly known as the “Holy Inquisition” and housed in the same space as the former Inquisition). This is the Congregation that condemned theologians such as Leonardo Boff, Eugene Drewermann and myself, (among 105 others). It turns out that among the 20 cardinals currently in the “flow chart” at CDF at least a dozen are practicing homosexuals of which five live with a boyfriend. Three others regularly visit male prostitutes. One of the seven charges against my work was that I do not condemn homosexuals.[2] Comments Martel: “The Congregation is therefore an interesting clinical case and the heart of Vatican hypocrisy.” Says a former priest who worked there: “Since many of them are homosexual, these clergy impose a hatred of homosexuals, which is to say self-hatred, in a desperate masochistic act.” (276)

According to the same source, when Cardinal Ratzinger (later to be Pope Benedict XVI) ruled over the Congregation “the homosexual question became an actual unhealthy obsession.” Homophobia “spread ad nauseam through dozens of declarations, exhortations, letters, instructions, considerations, observations, motu propio and encyclicals.” (277)

Is it any wonder, given this cover up and hypocrisy, that if you wander into a Roman Catholic church today for the most part the gathering is nearly entirely white-haired persons? No young ones. Is it any wonder that the New York diocese last year closed over 100 churches and parishes and similar closings are going on in dioceses all around the country and all around the world?

I sometimes tell the story of my nephew and his wife who belonged to the Boston archdiocese years ago when the pedophile cover up by Cardinal Law came to light thanks to the Spotlight series in the Boston Globe, an event made famous by the movie that followed. My nephew and his wife lived in Salem, Massachusetts which is part of the Boston Archdiocese and one day they were driving down the highway with their newborn baby to get him baptized when they heard on the radio the breaking news of Cardinal Law’s coddling a priest who abused over 120 boys, moving him from parish to parish and eventually to other dioceses as well. They stopped their car and said to each other: “What are we doing? We are taking our baby to be baptized in a church that protects pedophiles and passes them around and that persecutes its prophets like our uncle silencing them when they speak the truth?” They turned around and did not baptize their child in the church.

This is a generation that no longer stands for being bamboozled by lies, cover up and hypocrisy. One does not put that toothpaste back in the tube. And they only knew the tip of the iceberg, Martel’s book reveals much that is below the surface.

It is hard to underestimate the cynicism of the hierarchy who are hiding in the closet while throwing bombs at truth tellers and theologians and are playing against the rules and their vows at night but are busy telling lay people both gay and straight during the day how to conduct themselves sexually. Gays and lesbians are never to have sex, not in a civil union and not in a marriage and never at all. They are instructed to be celibate—just like the cardinals who have taken –and are supposedly keeping–their vows.

The archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, is a special loud mouth when it comes to opposing gays. When bishop of San Diego he teamed up with the Mormons and poured millions of dollars into the campaign in favor of Proposition 8 which guaranteed the end of gay marriage in a referendum in the state of California. Yet a classmate and priest who was in the seminary with him approached me one day after a lecture and said “Cordileone was ‘the queen’ of the seminary and we all knew it.” Yet Rome purposefully made him bishop of the most prominent gay city in the world. Cynicism anybody?

 Cynicism Run Rampant

At the root of such hypocrisy translated into cynicism is self-hatred projected onto others and especially homosexuals. I remember when I read the first document of Cardinal Ratzinger’s against gays (he wrote two major documents of total negativity and concluded the only moral way for a gay to survive is to in effect take an oath of celibacy and remain a virgin) when I finished it I asked: “What am I feeling?” And the answer was: “Whoever wrote this wants gays in concentration camps.” Then it dawned on me: “Wow! That’s exactly what his ancestors did.” (Ratzinger grew up in Nazis times in Germany.) Martel comments on how, in interviewing so many Vatican types he often felt he was back in the 1930’s or 1950’s for the attitudes of homophobia that reigned there especially among gay prelates. It was as if, “fifty years after Stonewall, the gay revolution in the United States, the Vatican is the last bastion still to be liberated!” (xii) In many ways he found the situation to be a generational one.

There lies a deep cynicism behind appointing a bishop who is a closeted queen who hates extending the rights of marriage to gays and lesbians as head of the most gay friendly city in the world, San Francisco. Another act of cynicism was to appoint (as Ratzinger did) a bishop to “investigate” the homosexual friendly bishop of Seattle (Bishop Hunthausen who was a saint by anyone’s standards) and send a report on him back to the Vatican. Hunthausen welcomed Dignity which is and was a gathering of gay Catholics to hold a national conference in his diocese. It turns out that the bishop sent to investigate Hunthausen and who has since climbed very high in the American hierarchical ladder beginning as bishop in Pittsburgh, when a seminarian in the American college in Rome, was a lover to the previous Cardinal of Pittsburgh, Cardinal Wright. Again, what cynicism! And what a way to control the system and perpetuate it.

These stories from my sources are buttressed by hundreds more that Martel lays out. They are not meant to out individuals and certainly not to disparage homosexuals (Martel is himself an out gay person). What it does, among other things, is to lay bare the fact that most of the people running the RC Church today and making pronouncements about what constitutes ethical sexual morality are sick individuals very distant from spirituality or healthy self awareness including a healthy attitude toward sexuality. More deeply in love with power than with the Word of God, they exhibit a complete lack of soul searching and developmental maturity and a chosen ignorance of what science and psychology teach us about sexuality. Part of a self perpetuating system that one wonders could ever be redeemed, they even give gayness itself a bad name.

Cynicism is their religion more than anything even approaching spirituality.

What renders cynicism so deep an evil? It is a sin against the via positiva—love of life—that marks the beginning of the spiritual journey. “Awe is the beginning of wisdom” as Rabbi Heschel says and “praise precedes faith.” But the cynic has shut his door to awe and refuses to praise. Webster’s Dictionary defines cynicism this way: “One who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest.” Being cynical is being “contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives.” Its synonyms include the following: “misanthropic, pessimistic, misogynic (hatred and distrust of women), deeply distrustful.” It all adds up to necrophilia, the very opposite of biophilia or love of life. Consider Meister Eckhart who asks: “Who is a good person? A good person praises good people.”

The Cardinals running the Catholic church from inside their closets of repression praise no one. They are not good people. They have not tasted the via positiva. They are lovers of death, not of life. In his great study on evil, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Erich Fromm wrote: “Necrophilia grows when biophilia is stunted.” So many of these churchmen long ago stunted their biophilia. The result is that they rain their necrophilia on the rest of us.

 Pope Francis’ Options

What can the pope do in all this tawdry mess? First, he did choose to blow the whistle on this sick power cabal in the Vatican. He addressed them publicly in December, 2014, warning that “Rigidity is not a gift from God….Behind rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life, but there is also something like an illness.” Pope Francis talked of the 15 “diseases” of the Roman Curia including “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and “existential schizophrenia.” He talked of hypocrisy of cardinals and bishops who lead “a hidden and often dissolute life.” (67)

To me it seems obvious that six actions are in order and there is no time to waste before the entire edifice known as the Roman Catholic Church disappears even more fully than it is doing (except perhaps in Africa and some Asian countries). I am reminded of what the late Catholic monk Father Bede Griffith once said to me: “Don’t worry about the Vatican. Don’t even look over your shoulder. Just keep plowing ahead and doing the work you are doing planting new seeds. One day it is all going to come tumbling down just like the Berlin Wall.” That day may be now.

Not only the immoral and insensitive handling of priestly pedophile cases but also Martel’s new book may be the final straw that brings down the Vatican Wall.

Here is what the pope can do and do swiftly:

  1. Ordain married men. (This is no cure-all but it will bring some balance back to a clerical system that is heavily weighed in favor of in the closet gay clergy).
  2. Make celibacy optional—including for gay clergy.
  3. Ordain women and bring them boldly into the all-clerical and all male and all patriarchal system.
  4. Alter the church’s god-awful teachings on sexuality derived from Augustine of Hippo and not from Jesus and not from the Bible. Augustine’s teaching for example that all love-making must result in having babies constitutes the basis of its opposition to birth control even in a time of AIDS and of excessive humans on the planet and its disapproval of gay and lesbian love making.
  5. Develop a positive and authentic understanding of gay sex and gay love making. Begin with this: “God is love” says the Bible. Not “God is heterosexual love alone.” Gay people, as indigenous people once knew, carry a special spiritual depth to them and were therefore most often the spiritual directors to the greatest chiefs of North America. (This teaching was taught to me by the late Sister Jose Hobday, a Seneca woman and Franciscan sister who knew the full story of her people very well.) This is true among Celtic tribes and many tribes in Africa as well.
  6. Listen to and teach what science teaches us about homosexuality—that it is utterly natural for about 8% of any given human population (and 464 other species have been identified with gay and lesbian populations). Clearly nature is biased in favor of sexual diversity. Science has spoken.

A few years ago I was lecturing in South Korea where they have translated about 12 of my books over the years. One event was actually held in the headquarters of the Roman Catholic diocese in downtown Seoul. The place was filled to the gills, about 600 in attendance, people seated in chairs, people standing against the walls, people in the aisles on the floor, people standing in the corridors outside the room. The audience was diverse—Buddhist monks, Catholic sisters, Protestants, all. The lecture went on for at least three hours as I had to be translated after each sentence or two.

The very last question of the day was from a young man, 26 years old, who rose and said: “I am gay and I don’t feel at home in my Protestant church.” My answer went like this: “My Bible says that ‘God is love,’ not just heterosexual love. The gay question has become the Galileo question of our day: Science has spoken and about 8-10% of any human population anywhere is going to be gay. Other species too (last count is 464) host gay populations. So being gay is not unnatural to a minority—in fact forcing gays to be heterosexual is unnatural just as forcing a straight person to be gay would be unnatural. It is time for religion to listen to science or we will have another Galileo situation. It took the church 450 years to apologize for its overreaction to Galileo’s findings. Will we have to wait 450 years to apologize on this issue also?

Furthermore, I have been told by a Native American Seneca woman (who was also a Franciscan sister), Sister Jose Hobday, that it is well known by those who know that tradition that ‘all the spiritual directors to our great chiefs were gay. We know that gay people bring more spirituality to a community than straight people do. When I do retreats with only gays and lesbians we go deeper much faster than when I lead retreats for general audiences.’ I have researched this subject and found similar teachings among Celtic peoples and African peoples as well.

So, if you belong to a society or community that worships a homophobic Deity you are shooting yourself in the foot because you are losing lots of spiritual energy.”

With that the lecture was done but two events happened simultaneously. First, my translator, who was seated at a table next to me, immediately rose abruptly and left the room—this turned out to be anything but commodious since I had to sign books for the next hour and very few people spoke English. At the same time as she disappeared the MC for the afternoon, a priest I believe, rushed up to my podium knocking it over he was so agitated. “You’ve just dropped a bomb” he shouted, “you’ve just dropped a bomb! South Korea is the most homophobic culture in the world and you’ve just dropped a bomb. But that’s okay. It’s good it came from an outsider like yourself.”

The next morning I was on a train with my translator as we headed south for a gig at a University. The conversation began like this. “I want to apologize,” she said, “for disappearing on you yesterday afternoon. I could barely translate as you responded to that last question. Trying to translate, the top of my head was coming off. I am lesbian and I had never heard a theologian, much less a priest, talk the way you did. I rushed to the bathroom and I cried for an hour.”

What a poignant story! I liked this woman a lot, she was about 36 years old, very competent and strong and professional. Yet she cried for an hour because just one theologian in her life affirmed her as a full person and for the first time. How many other souls are out there suffering similarly because of homophobia in religion? A homophobia that the Roman Catholic church, gay clergy and all, continues to propagate? And that, ultimately, forces repressed and self-hating gay men into the closet from which they poison the world and the church they claim to love?

Redeeming the Sick Ones

In addition to silencing me for a year and ultimately expelling me from the Dominican Order after 34 years, the Vatican of John Paul II and Benedict XVI labelled my work of creation spirituality “dangerous and deviant.” This from the same pope who resigned early because he could not deal with the truths that Martel relays in his book. In the presence of the facts laid out in that book I have to ask: “Who is dangerous and deviant now? How dangerous and deviant has the church become in its upper echelons and in its quest for power over service and necrophilia over biophilia? How much projection must be tolerated before truth returns? How much hypocrisy and cynicism?” Didn’t someone once say: “The truth shall make you free”?

My prayer is that the sick and self-hating homophobes in the Vatican closet might themselves be freed and that, not waiting for such a miracle as this, the church might as a minimum be freed from them being in high places, canonizing one another when they die, dallying around at night and sending moral missives and commandments throughout the world during the day about what does and does not constitute sexual morality. It would be nice to imagine redemption for them and ultimately forgiveness some day.

But that day seems a long way off. First must come 1) exiting their places of power and decision making. 2) Those who condoned pedophilia or practiced it going to jail. 3) Those who set up unbearable legal burdens on couples married or unmarried, straight or gay, to beg forgiveness–maybe as part of their penance they should wear sackcloth and ashes for a year, a traditional garb in centuries past for public sinners who have offended the greater community. 4) As a spiritual practice, read the “Song of Songs” every Sabbath day for one year. 5) Perhaps a proper penance would be to study what science has been saying since the 1970’s about the normalcy of homosexuality for a minority of the population. This might bring them at last into the twenty-first century.

This obligation to finally listen to science about sexuality should not be so difficult a task as it seems since the Church has anointed Thomas Aquinas both a saint and a doctor of the church and it was he who embraced the “pagan” scientist Aristotle to the consternation of many in the thirteenth century and who did so because, as he put it, “a mistake about creation results in a mistake about God.” Homophobia and the disparagement of sexuality in general are mistakes about creation and about God. God is not homophobic but rather biased in favor of sexual diversity.

6) Another act of reparation would be that all those who ascribe to a destructive view of sexuality actually study the truth of “Original Blessing” as distinct from “Original Sin” (which Augustine, who first used the term, did identify with our concupiscence or sexuality). Consider this: Without the blessing of lust, without the blessing of sex, none of us would be here. Only those who hate their existence have a right to consider sexuality a curse and not a blessing. Sexuality is presented as a blessing in the wisdom book in the Bible that we know as the “Song of Songs.” Take a class in Creation Spirituality and Original Blessing to cleanse the soul and mind of patriarchal, dualistic, dangerous dualisms and learn the new cosmology and with it the history of how the universe invented sexuality along the way.

The issue of the sad sexuality presented in Martel’s book is not that the prominent figures are gay. It is that they are gays who have inherited uncritically the “fatalistic self-hatred” (Adrienne Rich) that patriarchy teaches and have internalized a deep self-hatred around their sexuality. They have fallen into the reptilian brain consciousness of self-hating men who rain projections and envy onto others while creating a religion of self hatred. In this context it is easy for them to become unliberated, unfree, public liars carrying deep secrets–hypocrites, full of projections of their own unhappiness onto others. Misogynists and haters of women, controllers of creativity. Self-hating gays who prefer love of power to love of people and creation.

Married to the fossil structures of religion, they are no longer hunters after justice and spirituality, but choose to remain ignorant of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. They represent a lost generation of old gay men who were instructed early to be self-loathing and have been preoccupied since with projecting it onto others. Making up rules of conduct for lovers both heterosexual and homosexual in the daytime and disobeying all these same rules at night. Often cozying up to dictators and strongmen and fascist power-over sadists in the political realm, living in opulence and gilded apartments, they curse those who share solidarity with the poor. Searching for power, not goodness or grace. A disgrace.

A disgrace not only to the values of the Gospels but to their own humanity and their own identity as gay men. Launching religious bombs of homophobia from their gilded towers and inquisitorial dens, they remain completely out of touch with science and with what the Holy Spirit has been accomplishing in awakening people to the holy wonders that the gift and original blessing that sexuality can be: Love- making as a theophany, an experience of the divine, as the “Song of Songs” sings about. A sacred exchange of all that is holy, of what we call love. As good a name as any for the Great Mystery whom we all claim to serve, Creator, God, the Ineffable One, the One without a Name. Creator of sexuality in all its diverse and amazing expressions.

In many ways this book reveals to a new generation How Not To Be Gay. And How not to be sexual. Pope Francis is still stuck in doctrinal chains regarding sexuality which are tough to throw off and break through because the ecclesial right has completely weaponized sexuality as its modus operandi and its test of orthodoxy. From birth control to divorce to abortion to homosexuality and even masturbation the right has chosen its weapon of choice. As Pope Francis remarked, it has “put all its theology into condoms.”   The right would do well to read Cardinal (now Saint) Henry Newman’s Development of Doctrine to get a sense that even doctrines evolve (or ought to).

This book tells a tale of bad sex and bad religion and bad (absent) science and bad dogma (all culminating not in truth and justice and spirituality but in the pursuit of power). It also exposes bad politics more often in alliance with extreme right wing political power forces than not. One priest very knowledgeable about the Latin American scene told me that Pope John Paul II “was responsible for at least 10,000 murders in Latin America” by the rabid stance he (and Cardinal Ratzinger with him) took against base communities and liberation theology in South America. Behind it all lies a camouflage for power and control and reptilian brain excess (the reptilian brain not only wants to assert itself as #1 and hates to lose but is also responsible for our sexuality after all). Thanks to this book we are witnesses to a whole new chapter on Evil in places of power and how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and how human institutions descend into moral darkness.

When I was being attacked by the CDF over a ten year period for my work as a theologian I knew I was dealing with “third rate” theologians (my Master General, the head of the Dominican Order at the time, told me that then later denied he had said it). I did not know in my naivete that I was dealing with third rate priests who were not practicing what they preached; nor with third rate human beings. I did not know that I was dealing with poster boys for how not to be gay; poster boys for Hypocrisy; poster boys for not practicing what they preach. But I was. This book proves it.   (Ironically I see now that one of their formal objections to my theology was that I did not condemn homosexuals.)

Martel’s research also presents an opportunity to meditate more deeply on Cynicism, that sin against the Holy Spirit (who is, after all, always making “all things new”). Cynical religion, Cynical theology, Cynical sexuality, Cynical humanity, Cynical games that reveal a complete lack of spirituality. A complete absence of hope and of faith, i.e. trust; and of curiosity in birthing a future. The cynical notion that men must control history and institutions to avoid chaos is everywhere afoot. Misogyny is baked into the cynical pie as is the angst over anything new –“pessimism comes with the repression of creativity” after all as psychologist Otto Rank observed. The “something new” might even be a refreshed view of sexuality, one that sees it as integral to our mystical experience, a via positiva, an ecstatic mystery, not a negative problem, not an original sin.

Overall I recognize in Martel’s shocking book a present day parable not only of how “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (an observation by Roman Catholic historian Lord Acton after the nineteenth century Vatican Council I declared papal infallibility), but also about how internalized oppression and its consequent homophobia preached by religious hierarchy who choose to be ignorant of science kills the soul, renders religion demonic, and in turn rains self-hatred upon others. A sad and serious story about how Evil works in people and the institutions they operate. In this case it is about the capture of the second chakra by the powers of self hatred, internalized oppression and external projection/oppression that follows from it.[3] No wonder Thomas Aquinas warned that it is a “mortal sin,” i.e. a deadly virus, to choose to be ignorant of something important that we ought to know about. In this case, about how science has spoken and homosexuals are not diseased but a special minority with special gifts to give the larger community.

But also this parable contains redemption in it. We celebrate this month the liberation that burst through at Stonewall fifty years ago thanks to the courage and moral outrage of oppressed gay people. Liberation happens, redemption happens, when the oppressed say: “Enough!” When resistance occurs and courage kicks in. There comes a time when liberation/redemption takes hold and it begins with people throwing off internalized oppression and embracing themselves, sexuality and all, as Original Blessings.

Here lies another parable. Early in the twentieth century a Celtic poet wrote a poem called “Pater Noster” in which he described the church as a giant sailing vessel that for centuries plowed the great oceans in good weather and bad, surviving hurricanes and typhoons and schisms and all the rest. And then, in the twentieth century, it crashed into a giant rock, was torn apart and sank. And the name of the rock was: “Sex.”



[1] Matthew Fox, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved (NY: Sterling Ethos, 2011).

[2] A The other 6 chargers were that I am a feminist theologian; that I call God “Mother;” that I prefer original blessing to original sin; that I “work too closely with Native Americans;” and that I prefer the four paths of Creation Spirituality to the traditional three paths of purgation, union and illumination. See Matthew Fox, Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2016), 165-202 where I compare my so-called ‘heresies’ to Merton’s thinking.

[3] See Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society (Berekely, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2016), 237-266.


3 thoughts on “Review of Frederic Martel’s In The Closet of the Vatican

  1. Agree with his basic comments, but Fox talks too much! He doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does, that’s for sure!

  2. “Alter the church’s god-awful teachings on sexuality derived from Augustine of Hippo and not from Jesus and not from the Bible.”

    Would you include the teachings on masturbation in that, Matthew? That is something I struggle with.

  3. Have you studied Matthew Fox?
    Do YOU know what you’re talking about?
    What are your credentials for discernment?