On the very eve of the Feb. 21-24 summit convened by Pope Francis to discuss the global sex-abuse crisis, media attention was diverted to the release of a new book with the provocative title, In the Closet of the Vatican. Subtitled “Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy” and written by well-known French author and homosexual activist Frédéric Martel, the book purports to be a bombshell exposé on the massive homosexual subculture at the Vatican. “The Vatican,” Martel claims, “has one of the biggest gay communities in the world.”

Every page is filled with vicious innuendo, lurid details conjured up about the supposed sex lives of Vatican officials — including prominent cardinals and archbishops — and wild claims of hypocrisy and dark secrets. Virtually no one connected with the Holy See is spared, including modern popes.

Martel tries very hard to accuse Pope Benedict XVI of being a homosexual on the basis of externals — his red shoes and chubby cheeks — and he warns that Pope Francis knows about the massive homosexual colony behind the walls of the Vatican.

While the claim of the immense investigative operation, which the author says took him up to four years, led him to 30 countries and was facilitated by 80 “researchers” (most of whom also identify as homosexual), begs the immediate question of who funded it, the even more pressing problem with the book is the shoddy and nasty quality of the research that was produced. Most of his claims are not backed by any verifiable evidence.

Does Martel reveal some likely true details about a “gay mafia” in the Vatican? Yes, he does. But that is hardly a shocking discovery, as the presence of active homosexual priests in the Vatican is nothing new.

What makes this book, published in eight languages no less, so problematic, however, are its agenda and its timing.

Make no mistake, Martel’s sensationalist exploration into depravity and hypocrisy has an agenda.

At the very moment calls abound from the faithful for greater clarity in Church teaching on the moral life as an antidote to the rampant confusion within the Church and also to the clergy sex-abuse crisis, Martel — an atheist whose professional work focuses on the promotion of the “LGBT” agenda — asserts that any Church leader who speaks out against homosexuality is a self-loathing homosexual hypocrite. It is a toxic and factually unfounded assertion intended primarily to overturn the Church’s divinely inspired teachings on sexuality, but it is also a diabolically timed distraction.

Rampant infidelity to the teachings of the Church and a deformed understanding of the priesthood helped lead us into the abyss we are facing now, and Martel’s prurient exercise disguised as “journalism” points to a horrifying symptom of a bigger sickness.

Unleashed at the very start of the summit on sex abuse, and in the midst of the Church’s struggle with credibility and charges of secrets, cover-ups and hypocrisy in the clergy sexual-abuse crisis, In the Closet of the Vatican is a distraction built upon gossip and insinuation that steers us away from the real road of reform and renewal for the Church. That real path includes learning the expansive truth about the Theodore McCarrick scandal, holding the complicit bishops accountable and dealing fully with the crisis of predatory homosexuality and other types of sexual exploitation and the secrecy that have surrounded this sexual abuse and misconduct.

Even after the laicization of former cardinal McCarrick by Pope Francis became public Feb. 16, many questions still remain about that entire sordid scandal.

The Holy See pledged to release its findings, but it has obdurately opposed the release of all documents that might reveal at last who knew what about him, how he wielded so much power and for so long, and how he was apparently rehabilitated in the early years of Pope Francis’ pontificate. Until those questions are answered, this scandal will never truly be brought to a close.

Likewise, the Martel book is already being used to shut down conversations about the problem of predatory homosexuality among the root causes of the current crisis. For example, Frank Bruni, op-ed columnist for The New York Times, wrote, “Whatever Martel’s intent, In the Closet of the Vatican may be less a constructive reckoning than a stockpile of ammunition for militant right-wing Catholics who already itch to conduct a witch hunt for gay priests, many of whom are exemplary — and chaste — servants of the Church.” Similar sentiments have been pushed by activists such as journalist Andrew Sullivan and Jesuit Father James Martin.

To deal with the crisis fully, every root cause must be looked at by the leaders of the Church, and the numbers are overwhelming that homosexuality is a component. In a Feb. 18 interview in El Pais, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a key figure in the summit, noted, “There has been a constant since 2001 regarding the sexual abuse of minors committed by Catholic clergy: 80% of the victims are male and over 14 years old. It is a fact; interpretation is something else.”

There is no call for a purge or pogrom against same-sex-attracted priests. There must be, however, a call for solutions to the crisis that deal with the stark and painful reality facing the Church — a reality that prominently includes homosexual predation and double lives. Obfuscation, distraction, denial and refusing to look at every cause will only prolong the suffering and delay a full resolution to the darkest scandal in the modern history of the Church. Among the distractions is In the Closet of the Vatican.

Martel’s work is a modern equivalent of the horrid scene of the triptych of the Temptation of St. Anthony, a painting by the early-16th-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch — a tableau of the grotesque, the alluring and the distracting. The sins the painting depicts are all too real, but the great Desert Father understood that gazing at the images for too long would draw his eyes from Christ. Anthony held firm in prayer, in the determination to root out the darkness and sin in his own life.

We, too, need to be conscious of sin and depravity, but also to turn away from the allure of the Tempter. Like Anthony, we also need to pray — for victims and sinners, including ourselves — and to be fearless in our trust in the Lord.

St. Anthony once said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’”

The way forward is before us.