Book Review: Not Much Substance ‘In the Closet of the Vatican’
French author and ‘LGBT’ activist Frederic Martel presents innuendos, but not evidence or documents.
IN THE CLOSET OF THE VATICAN
Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy
Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019
576 pages, $18
By Frederic Martel (author), Shaun Whiteside (translator)
To order: amazon.com
VATICAN CITY — In the Closet of the Vatican, a newly released book by the French author and “LGBT” activist Frederic Martel, is generating global media attention and discussion among Vatican figures in Rome.
Published Feb. 21, the same day the Vatican summit on sexual abuse and the protection of minors began, the book was simultaneously launched in eight languages. Martel says he had three years to draft the text, with funds provided to travel and conduct his interviews, and, he says, with the help of about 80 collaborators.
The general thesis of the book is that the Vatican is among the most active hotbeds of homosexuality in the world. Martel has said in interviews that his goal is to shed light on the hypocrisy of those officials in the Vatican who, he says, practice homosexuality and then condemn it.
Martel’s book constructs a dividing line between the good and the bad, those he says are in the closet but working to come out, and those who stay in the closet, often while protesting “LGBT” social movements.
His is an ideological investigation; his anecdotes are used to advance a thesis that many have called predetermined. His text does not seem to strive for objective analysis or to make use of sociological research or statistical data.
The book seems to have two additional goals, which, embedded in the presuppositions of the text, might not have been even willfully intended by the author.
The first is to question the nature of the priesthood itself. At issue is not merely celibacy, Martel seems to argue, but the broader virtue of chastity, since his perspective seems to hold that sexual impulses among the clergy cannot really be mastered.
The second seems to be advocacy for a transition in the Vatican, one that would excise the old establishment, to establish a new one built according to the spirit of the world: that is, according to a pansexual vision, beyond Catholic moral categories and concerns.
The book must be read as it is. It 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.
There is a long history of books like Martel’s, though their quality and utility has varied dramatically over the years.
The first of the genre was Gone With the Wind in the Vatican, published under a pseudonym in 1999. The author, later revealed to be longtime Curial official Msgr. Luigi Marinelli, wrote gossip and innuendo elegantly, without naming names. References were precise, though, and it was easy to discern the targets of his stories. In the end, Msgr. Marinelli’s book, for what it was, was well-documented.
More recently, books by Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi were filled with Vatican documents and were at the origins of the second “Vatileaks” trial. Though the books were filled with imprecision and a sometimes biased reading of the documents, they too were based on documents.
In the Closet of the Vatican begins with gossip Martel collected in several interviews. The author says he recorded them all, and it would be interesting to listen to the full audio files, in order to contextualize some excerpts.
Martel maintains he was able to enter in the “Vatican’s closet” thanks to codes he understood that helped him to be introduced to this “hidden gay world.” However, it seems he never got into the Vatican proper, and, when looking at the Vatican from a keyhole, he did so with a negative prejudice.
Martel had a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, in his apartment in the Ethiopian College, a building at the top of the Vatican Gardens that is also home to Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo and was the home of the late U.S. Cardinal Edmund Szoka.
Cardinal Sodano, Martel writes, “is locked up in his African ivory tower, with all his secrets. If the Garden of Eden ever existed, it must be like this little earthly paradise: When I go there, crossing a bridge, I find myself among impeccably tended lawns and fragrant magnolias. It’s a Mediterranean garden, with pines and cypresses and, of course, olive trees. In the surrounding cedars I see purple-headed and mustachioed parrots, elegant and multi-coloured, whose mellifluous voices doubtless wake Cardinal Sodano from his slumbers.”
The description might suggest that all of this “Eden” is part of the Ethiopian College. In fact, these are the Vatican’s gardens, which occupy almost all of the Vatican City State’s territory. The Vatican is the greenest state in the world, and the Ethiopian College is one of the buildings in its gardens.
One of Martel’s guides into the closet of the Vatican is Francesco Lepore, a laicized priest and a Vatican employee at the office of Latin language at the Vatican Secretariat of State. Lepore left the priesthood after discovering his homosexuality.
Telling the story of Lepore, Martel underscored that “on 30 November 2003, the Neapolitan priest joined Domus Sanctae Marthae, the official residence of the cardinals at the Vatican — and the current home of Pope Francis.”
Domus Sanctae Marthae is not the cardinals’ official residence. It is a hotel that also hosts guests who have business with the Holy See. It becomes the cardinals’ residence during the conclave, as determined by St. John Paul II in 1996. Though Pope Francis has also resided there since being elected, Domus Sanctae Marthae still functions as a hotel and not as a cardinals’ residence.
Martel’s description of the episcopal ordination of Archbishop Georg Gänswein is also revealing of the lens through which the author reads the Vatican.
Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, now prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop Gänswein was ordained a bishop by Benedict XVI on Jan. 6, 2013. Together with him, Benedict XVI ordained Bishops Vincenzo Zani, Fortunatus Nwachukwu and Nicolas Henry Marie Denis Thevenin.
In Martel’s view, that solemn celebration was merely Benedict XVI’s homage to Gänswein, described in a text filled with innuendos about the relationship between the two.
Martel writes: “Benedict XVI insisted on giving the pastoral ring to His Bavarian Excellency Georg Gänswein in person, in a Fellini-esque ceremony engraved forever on the memory of the 450 statues, 500 columns and 50 altars of the basilica.”
Then Martel describes the celebration as if all other papal liturgical celebrations are not the same.
“First comes the procession, slow, superb, and choreographed to perfection; the pope with his huge topaz-yellow mitre, standing in a little indoor popemobile, a throne on wheels, travels like a giant the full 200-metre length of the nave to the sound of triumphant brass, beautiful organ sounds and the children’s choir of St. Peter’s, straight as unlit candles.”
The little indoor popemobile was in fact the small wheeled device that Benedict XVI used since 2011 to “alleviate fatigue.”
Martel goes on, saying that “the chalices are encrusted with precious stones; the censers smoke. In the front rows of this new style of episcopal organization, dozens of cardinals and hundreds of bishops and priests in their finest robes provide a palette of red, white and oxblood. There are flowers everywhere, as if at a wedding.”
And, yes, Vatican decorations are always like this, as are the ornamental stones on chalices.
Everything is thus seen through a distopyc lens to carry on an ideology.
The book is also filled with stories of cardinals and bishops described as well-known homosexuals, sometimes targeted by name but always without reliable sources.
Cardinal Raymond Burke is presented as a cardinal who “likes to be spoken of in the feminine: ‘Votre Éminence peut être fière’; ‘Votre Éminence est grande’; ‘Votre Éminence est trop bonne’ (‘Your Eminence can be proud’; ‘Your Eminence is great’; ‘Your Eminence is too kind’).”
The feminine is in fact the “lei,” the Italian formal “you.” It coincides with the third singular feminine person, but has an entirely different meaning, which Martel seems not to understand.
Speaking about the Fernando Karadima case — the Chilean abuser priest that Pope Francis dismissed from the clerical state in 2018 — Martel also involves Cardinal Sodano, who was Vatican secretary of state from 1990 through 2006.
Martel writes: “The reasons that led Sodano (as well as Cardinal Errázuriz, who replaced Sodano as secretary of state in 2006) to protect this paedophile priest remain mysterious.”
Notably, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa has never been secretary of state, though he held the position of secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life from 1990 to 1996.
These inaccuracies are mixed with much information taken from press reports and gossip, sometimes presented with the sentence “other sources confirm,” but without in fact giving any real evidence.
Looking at it carefully, the biggest attacks are made against those who cannot defend themselves. It is the case for Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who died in 2008 and was president of the Pontifical Council for the Family from 1990 to his death. Martel targets him because, he says, he was an anti-gay lobbyist though he was a practicing homosexual. He offers neither proof, nor the possibility of defense.
The book presents a Vatican where everyone is gay and those who are not would like to be.
There are certainly sins and human miseries in the Vatican, and many claim that homosexuality is part of the abuse crisis and must be discussed.
But the Vatican is not demonstrably a “gay state.” Alleged homosexuality is often a weapon used in order to stamp out careers. When Pope Francis speaks about the “terrorism of gossip,” he is speaking about that.
It is striking that Martel initially got in touch with the Vatican’s world through Krysztof Charamsa. Charamsa is the official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who outed himself on the eve of the 2015 family synod, announcing his homosexual relationship with a Spanish man.
Martel writes: “The first time I heard the name of Krzysztof Charamsa was in an email, from him. The prelate contacted me when he was still working for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Polish priest had enjoyed, he told me, my book Global Gay, and he asked for my help in communicating through the media his imminent coming out, though he swore me to secrecy on the subject.”
Once Martel verified that account, he did help Charamsa. It was 2015. Shortly after, he began to draft In the Closet of the Vatican.