Pope Francis recently made the news by, apparently, acknowledging the existence of a "gay lobby" at the Vatican.
What did he say? What did he mean? And what will he do in the future?
Here are 10 things to know and share . . .
1. What did Pope Francis say?
According to press reports, Pope Francis recently said:
"In the Curia there are holy people, truly, there are holy people. But there's also a current of corruption – there's that, too, it's true.... The 'gay lobby' is spoken of, and it's true, that's there... we need to see what we can do.”
2. Where and when did he say this?
According to Rocco Palmo:
The comments were purportedly made during an hourlong audience the Pope held last Thursday with the Religious Confederation of Latin America and the Caribbean (CLAR).
An unsigned "exclusive, brief synthesis" of the encounter – featuring a series of pull-quotes, but not a full transcript – was apparently provided to and subsequently published on Sunday afternoon by Reflexión y Liberación, a church-focused Chilean website with sympathies toward liberation theology.
These thus were not public remarks, which raises a question about their authenticity.
3. Did he really say it?
My guess is that he did. The quotations sound very much like Pope Francis, they hit his characteristic themes, and they display the kind of unguarded frankness that he is known for.
Furthermore, the Vatican Press Office made what, in Watergate parlance, might be termed a “non-confirmation confirmation.” Rocco notes:
Amid requests for comment on the substance of the following, the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi told CNN that "It was a private meeting. I have no comment to make."
UPDATE: It's being reported that the site which originally published the conversation has been "backing away" from the gay lobby claim. You can read about that here.
While they are adding a few qualifiers, they aren't backing away all that far. Apparently the conversation was transcribed from memory rather than a recording, and so they're saying that the remark “cannot be attributed with certainty to the Holy Father” (emphasis added).
This is not a denial or disproof of the story. They're not saying that he didn't say this. They're saying that it's based on memory and thus is not 100% certain (particularly in the exact wording), but that's not the same thing as saying that the remark was never made.
Personally, I always figured that the account was based on memory rather than a recording, and given that it was apparently based on the memories of several witnesses who were present, my guess is that he did make the remark, even if there has to be a question mark over the exact wording.
4. What did he mean by a “gay lobby”?
This is a little unclear.
Any sizeable group of people is going to have people who suffer from same-sex attraction (SSA) and some who act on it.
Such individuals are likely to have learned of each others’ existence and formed a network of some kind.
But a network is not the same thing as a “lobby.”
To refer to something as a lobby suggests that it tries to influence events in some way. If all they were doing was using knowledge of each other to arrange sexual liaisons, that wouldn’t make them a lobby.
5. What might a gay lobby try to do?
An obvious long-term goal might be trying to influence Church teaching on homosexual behavior.
If that’s their goal, they haven’t met with a lot of success. The Church has been quite firm on this subject.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued multiple documents dealing with this subject and maintaining the Church’s traditional teaching in spite of mounting cultural opposition.
They might also try to influence policies such as, for example, the admission of people with a homosexual orientation to the priesthood.
If that’s what they’re tying to do, they also haven’t met with a lot of success.
Just after Pope Benedict became pope, the Holy See issued a policy that people with stable, fixed homosexual orientations should not be admitted to the priesthood.
A plausible avenue where they might have had some success is influencing the outcome of individual cases—e.g., looking out for each other, seeking to mutually advance their careers, seeking to promote their members to positions of influence, seeking to bring people they know on the outside into the Vatican, and working to promote homosexuals to influential positions outside the Vatican.
6. How big is the “gay lobby”?
As we said, any sizable group of people is going to have some within it who suffer from same-sex attraction (SSA), just as any sizable group of people will have some within it who suffer from any given temptation.
If the group is sizeable enough, it will have some who give in to that temptation.
The Vatican City State employs about 2,000 people, and with a group that size, it’s bound to include some people with SSA, including some who have acted or are acting on it.
How many is an interesting question, but there isn’t much of a way to know.
However, we shouldn’t assume that it is a massive number. After all, Pope Francis said:
"In the Curia there are holy people, truly, there are holy people.”
He then noted:
“But there's also a current of corruption – there's that, too, it's true....”
This “current of corruption” is, apparently, in his view, smaller than the group of holy people.
Then, apparently within the “current of corruption,” he said:
“The 'gay lobby' is spoken of, and it's true, that's there.”
This suggests that the “gay lobby” may be only part of the “current of corruption,” which itself may be small in comparison to the much larger group of holy people who work at the curia.
We thus shouldn’t freak out about this.
7. Where have we heard about this before?
One possible member of the “gay lobby” was outed by the Italian media in 2007. He was swiftly dismissed from his position.
More recently, in the wake of the VatiLeaks scandal, Pope Benedict appointed a commission of three cardinals to conduct an investigation, and in the lead-up to the recent conclave the Italian press began reporting that the commission had turned up evidence of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican.
At the time it was rumored that this lobby had something to do with Pope Benedict’s resignation.
Responsible Vatican observers thought that it was unlikely to have had any direct role.
Pope Benedict himself indicated that he was resigning because he lacked the energy needed to govern the Church in the way he thought was needed, and there is no reason to doubt that.
It is possible, though, that the results of the cardinals’ investigation was a contributing factor in Pope Benedict’s conclusion that a more vigorous pope was needed to face the magnitude of the challenges that exist.
8. Where did Pope Francis get his information about the “gay lobby”?
Presumably, he got it from the 300-page report said to have been prepared by Pope Benedict’s commission of cardinals.
Prior to the recent conclave, there were questions about whether the results of this report would be shared with the voting cardinals.
The full report, it appears, was not, but the report was apparently given to Pope Francis after his election, and this is certainly among his sources of information.
9. What will happen now?
This remains to be seen. According to the comments he reportedly made, he said, “We need to see what we can do.”
The making of these comments may itself have been an initial step towards addressing the situation.
By making these comments, Pope Francis may have foreseen that they would be published, and he may have meant them as a kind of warning shot or “shot across the bow” to the “gay lobby.”
In other words: You guys better knock it off. You need to go to ground and shut down the network.
This could be understood both in terms of illicit sexual activity by members of the network and any attempts to exercise influence by it.
But there is more that could be done.
10. What else might they do?
The Holy See would not be expected (under usual circumstances) to publicly out and fire the known members of the network, stating the reason why, given the firestorm of negative publicity that would produce.
However, it might well decide to break up the network by retiring or reassigning its members, without publicly stating the reason why.
The fact that Pope Francis is preparing a major cleaning-house and likely restructuring of the Roman curia (the departments that help him run the Church) would provide an excellent opportunity for doing just that.
What do you think?
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