The Catholic Church Has a Lot of Gays ... or A Review of In The Closet of the Vatican


Attention Conservation Notice: A review of a book about homosexuality from a straight, white male who used to be homophobic.

When I shop for books on Amazon, I look at the 2-star reviews. 1-star and 5-star reviews are not to be trusted.Or, as it happens, 3-star reviews of the New Testament: “For those of you who don’t know, this is God’s second novel after the Old Testament. It’s a marked improvement, in my opinion. He got rid of a lot of his previous angst and scorn, and has really begun to show some of the maturity present in his later works. He’s become a much more loving and kind God, and, noticeably, he doesn’t throw nearly as many tantrums as he did in the first book. That said, there is still vast room for improvement. Plot wise, there isn’t really much suspense, and the story can be incredibly repetitive. In like four chapters, he just rewords the same basic story over and over again. To top that off, he puts those chapters one right after the other. Like we wouldn’t notice! I like the whole Jesus character, but let’s face it, the whole good guy martyr thing has been done before. There was no need to devote so much of the book to that guy.” Reviewers who give 2 stars probably hated the book, but are more likely to give reasons than just start flame wars. So I check the reasons and see whether they pass the smell-test. If the 2-star objections are so horrifically bad that I can see through them without even reading the book, the author is probably onto something.

This is essentially how you know Martel is onto something with his book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy.

We can ignore the reviews from gays and fundamentalist homophobes–we already know what they will say.Ok, yes, [minority group] is not a monoculture. Chill out, it’s a joke. What we want are the 2-star “I’m-not-homophobic-I’m-just-trying-to-sort-out-fact-from-fiction” Catholic reviewers. Luckily for us, there were plenty.

From America, The Jesuit Review, we read that Martel “produces a toxic cloud of suspicion.”

If you like gossip, anecdotes, salacious stories and innuendo about people in high places in the church, then you will probably like this book. But if you are looking for hard evidence, documentation, separation of fact from assumption or other forms of proof to sustain the allegations or claims being made in this text, then you will be disappointed.

The Catholic World Report tells us that the book “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.” Not much “substance,” the title of its review tells us.

One wonders just how Martel would have conducted a more thorough analysis of the secretive, often self-loathing, outwardly-homophobic, inwardly-gay priests he describes in the book:

Martel: "Ok, just let me know if you're gay. I know your public credibility relies on you saying "No" and there is, like, two thousand years of Catholic tradition saying Being Gay is Bad, and you've been writing books about how homosexuality as a sin, but let me know so I can put your name in this book..." Priest: "No."

Let’s take a look at something most reviewers focussed on. The most important quote of the book came from an interview with a former priest, Francesco Lepore. Martel asks him to estimate the size of the gay community within the Vatican: “I think the percentage is very high. I’d put it at around 80 percent.”

Estimates lower than 80 percent appear at different times in the book, but let’s ask the more important questions: How much false “gossip” and “innuendo” would one have to be exposed to in order to make the usual percentages, which normally stay within single digits, jump up to 80 percent? Is everyone in the Vatican playing a special game where they pretend to be gay to Francesco Lepore? Is Lepore so attractive that usually-straight priests turn gay just for him? Does Lepore has a special disease which makes him mistake straight priests for gay ones?

Or are these 2-star reviews just really bad?

Lepore’s numbers might be wrong, some of the innuendo may be unsubstantiated, and some of the gossip may just that. But you don’t get guesses like 80 percent when just a few priests are gay.

One last comment before I actually discuss some of the content. Even the language many reviewers used gives them away. One would hardly use the words “gossip” and “innuendo” if there wasn’t such a culture of heteronormativity to be broadcast to the outside world. Imagine: “Eighty percent of Catholics are highly creative.” “No, that’s just unsubstantiated gossip and innuendo!” You may object that this is a strawman: Some Catholics may claim the language is directed at the charge of hyprocrisy that Martel lays down. This is certainly possible. The most sad of the 12 rules that Martel gives is that the most secretively gay priests are the most outwardly homophobic. But there are definitely Catholics who would not refer to this hypocrisy, but the homosexuality itself. This is the important bit, since their inability to swallow the stories that Martel gives them stops them from trying to change the culture surrounding homosexuality in the Vatican. Easier instead just to deny them as gossip and innuendo than to deal with them, recognize something should be done, and change the culture.

The Rules of the Closet

If there is one thing Martel’s negative reviewers have right about him, it is that he is obsessed with gays. In the strict religious environment I grew up in, homosexuality was rarely talked—when it was, it was only to discuss it as a “sin.” The inner lives of people who were gay, especially those who hid it from the public, was something I never conceptualized, mostly because there was never anyone around me who discussed it. Martel does.

Martel’s central thesis is about hypocrisy. So many priests are gay and yet so many priests are outwardly homophobic. He wants to tell us why this is the case, and just how all the games and politics that come as a result play out. The results of his investigation are all wrapped up in his Twelve Rules of the Closet (see the Appendix).

Here is the most important situation Martel describes: A young Catholic boy understands that he is gay (or has no interest in girls, and doesn’t yet realize he is gay) but still believes in and loves God.

What kind of environment does he want to be in? What kind of profession appeals to him? Which environment can he enter so that other people will stop asking him why he shows no interest in girls? Where can he go to feel comfortable with other boys? Martel answers that the priesthood has been so appealing to young boys with feelings they can’t quite understand, with questions from others they want to escape, that despite their low percentage within the general population, they manage to become the majority in the profession.

So seminaries become homoerotic: “‘Everything is homoerotic. The liturgy is homoerotic, the habits are homoerotic, the boys are homoerotic, not to mentioned Michaelangelo!’ the former seminarian Robert Mickens tells me.” Outside the seminary, there are gay priests who live what Martel calls a “double life”: homosexual on the inside, homophobic on the outside. The seminary can be different, as one of the young priests Martel interviews explains to him:

"I don't see that as a double life. A double life would be something secret and hidden. But my homosexuality is well known within the seminary. It isn't noisy, it isn't militant, but it is known. What is truly forbidden, however, is to be in favour, to assert oneself. But as long as one remains discreet, everything is fine."

Outside the seminary is different. Martel describes a world of gay politics. Each pope has their stance on the gay question—Pope Francis being the latest and most interesting of them. The Catholic Church tries to throw around its weight on the international stage in the mad hope that it can restrain countries from giving their gay populations the right to marry—it finds itself strange bedfellows with Islamic countries looking to do the same. Gay priests—especially young, good looking ones—find themselves climbing the Catholic hierarchy faster than straight ones: powerful gay priests like young gays as their assistants. Right at the top, in the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, of the 20 cardinals involved, Martel believes there are “about a dozen homophiles or practicing homosexuals. At least five live with a boyfriend. Three regularly use male prostitutes.”

And then there is the sex. Martel interviews prostitutes on the streets of the Vatican. Priests pay well—they have the money to do so. But:

"They're unhappy," Christian goes on. "They're not alive; they don't love. Their way of approaching you, their little game, phone to their ears to make them look normal, as if they have a social life, when they're not talking to anyone. I know it all by heart. And most importantly, I've got regulars. I know them. We talk a lot. They confess. I have a cross around my neck too, I'm a Christian. It creates a bond! They feel safer with an Orthodox Christian; it's reassuring for them! I talk to them about John Paul II, whom I like a lot, as a Romanian; no one liked that pope more than I did. And an Italian hardly ever takes us to a hotel. The only ones who take us to hotels are priests, tourists, and cops!"

Martel interviews prostitutes who claim to have had hundreds of gay priests as clients. No doubt this is just “gossip” and “innuendo.”

There are parts Martel doesn’t deal with well. He spends a great deal of time on clerical abuse, the surroundings scandals and coverups. I wonder if this is a subject for a different book.I write wonder because I really just don’t know whether the two subjects ought to be connected. Fifty years ago one might have gotten away with insinuating homosexuality is a sexual deviancy linked to other sexual “abuses.” This is no longer a viable position to take. I also wonder how much I ought to care about the positions of the various popes on the “gay” question. It certainly is interesting. But they certainly don’t have any special insight. What Aquinas has said about acts being “against nature” or what Benedict has said about homosexuality being “intrinsically disordered” should have zero impact on what anyone thinks about homosexuality. Asking Catholics about how we should deal with gays is like asking Nazis how we should deal with Jews. If you’re even asking the question, you’re doing it wrong.

Obviously Martel knows this, but he spends the time discussing it anyway. Some people may appreciate it. What I wish he spent more of his time on was a discussion of the inner struggle of gay, often self-loathing priests.

So I went ahead and provided and example for you here.

What It’s Like to Grow Up Gay in a Religious Community

The following is taken from an interview I did with a friend, who I’ll call Philip, who grew up in the same fundamentalist cult as me. We were not Catholic, and Philip did not attend a seminary. But many of the pressures and questions that a young gay boy may have when growing up in an intensly religious community should be the same.

1) Did recognizing you were gay do anything to your belief in God? Did you think God hated you or did you think other people had wrong ideas about what God wanted?

No, it only made me double down in prayer. Asking God to take the gay feelings away from me was the only option I thought I had. I was in Grade 6 when I started connecting the dots that I felt different than other boys around me. I would have moments of terror in the years that followed, up through to University and after. Moments where I knew that I was gay. I never let those thoughts linger for long because they scared me. So I suppressed them as best I could and continued on with my life. In High School (Grade 9), I was allowed to participate in my first Sex Education class as part of our physical education (my teacher, funnily enough, was a lesbian). We watched videos and had class discussions. I was quiet. I had more interest in the guy parts; the women’s anatomy was weird and gross to me. It was at this time that I really started “praying the gay away”. I never thought God hated me; but I always felt God never heard me. It would make me incredibly mad because I was so sincere in my prayers! I ended up getting into this weird mindset where I figured I had to become more sincere in my devotion to God, for him to hear me. More prayer; more study; more note taking in church… show God you mean it!

2) Did you feel awkward or annoyed if people asked you about your interest in girls without knowing you were gay? Did you want to escape to a place where people wouldn’t ask those questions?

Yes. I was always awkward when girls expressed interest in me. Always. Not because I was gay though; but because my parents were very much of the mindset that my brother’s and I were to express no interest in girls until we finished our university studies. Anytime people asked me if I was gay I’d take such personal offence to it, and flat out deny it. I can still hear my reply, “I’m not gay!”, in that defensive tone.

I remember a girl in my Grade 6 class calling me on the phone, with her friends at her side, expressing to me that she had a crush on me. I don’t member any of the specifics, but I somehow managed to get out of the conversation. Awkward!

In High School I don’t recall being asked a whole lot about my interest in girls. One of my older brothers was the only one who seemed bothered by my lack of interest. He would always try to get me to “man-up”, and show some interest in girls. He wanted me to do “manly things”, especially when it came to church functions. I always resisted his efforts, not because of knowing I was gay, but more so because I was really still a kid and just had no interest in it. I also worked at the cafeteria in High School and made friends with the guys who worked there with me. They were older than me and I always admired and respected them. I thought they were cool and they treated me like I was one of them. This gave me a much needed boost of self confidence! I would always try and fit in when conversations about girls came up - it never really bothered me doing this. I was really just focused on studying more than anything at this time. It was in Church that I experienced the most frustration. More on that later.

As for University, I suspect most of my classmates knew I was gay; however, the subject of girls came up even less than in High School. My classmates definitely knew I was religious with Saturday being a no-go day for me. I didn’t work on group projects on Saturday; had exams deferred; and booked time off for Holy Days. They all knew I was in some whack religion but were kind enough to let me be. A few classmates expressed interest in my beliefs though. I had one EMBARRASSING moment in my 3rd or 4th year. I was walking down the hallway from one class to another and a young guy in the hallway, who knew my family vaguely, yells out to me “HEY PHILIP? ARE YOU GAY?”. I stopped dead in my tracks with wide eyes wide. All these people around me and he yells that out to me? I was mortified. I stopped to talk to him for a bit, told him I wasn’t gay, and then proceeded to my next class. Man, talk about a cold sweat moment! The poor guy had obvious mental health struggles. You could tell he was made fun of by so many people that when he saw a familiar face he just wanted to talk. But damn, of all things to yell out. Ugh. I later realized he too was gay. I couldn’t imagine the bullying he went through. I saw him recently, and he was super friendly and kind; however, you couldn’t help but notice that his life has been consumed by drug addiction. Poor guy, I really feel for him. He has a great heart.

I suppose I should answer the second part of the question. Did I want to escape? Yes. Hell yes. I was constantly pressured and hounded to date in my church whether it be from sermons, my parents, and even my two oldest brothers. I felt the pressure on all fronts. My church was always hosting and encouraging social activities to encourage us young adults to date. But no pairing off mind you! We were to date widely; put ourselves out there and not get serious with any one person. Dating after all, was supposed to be carefree and fun! So there I was in my High School and University years, attending singles camping weekends, dances, Feast Holy-Day activities; all of which involved asking girls to dance with you or sit next to you in church. Fuck, me. I hated it. I had no interest in any of it. I just never saw women in that way. And when I convinced myself other wise, there was just no attractive pull for me. It really irked my second oldest brother. He would always give me pep talks about asking girls out on dates and I know it pissed him off because I would always gripe about not being interested. My brother you see, thought himself macho and the epitome of masculinity. It took me a couple years to realize he himself was sexually insecure. In his world, saying a guy looked good as a general statement was off limits; it would get him all tense, insecure, and uncomfortable. You know what they say about people who hate

3) Did you feel at any time (or now) that you can be religious and gay? What are your thoughts about that issue? (Or perhaps not can, since many people are already doing it, but “should” you be gay and religious…)

At first, no. I left church when I was 25 and a few months after, I made that difficult decision to come out as gay. At that time I felt I couldn’t be religious and gay. The idea of reconciling the two seemed impossible. I recall a conversation with my next oldest brother (not a church member himself; he left several years prior) where he had mentioned how some would argue that the bible doesn’t actually condemn homosexuality. I remember thinking to myself, “wait, what?”. This spear headed some research on my part and after looking into it, I was convinced that what my brother had said was right. In short, I will say that my views of Sodom and Gomorrah are totally different than what I was taught and led to believe by my Church. For those who recall the story, Lot doesn’t give his two daughters to a mob of gay men to have there way with them. How did I never make that connection before? My church took that story way out of context and used it in their arsenal for condemning gay people. This was a turning point for me where I realized I could leave the door open to religion. Just because my church had packaged and sold a twisted form of religion doesn’t mean that all religion had to be tossed out, right? I’m at a point now where I would call myself spiritual and open minded; I’m of the opinion that there’s “many paths to the mountain top”. I believe religious texts have been tampered with, so I prefer to take the good and leave the bad.

4) Did you ever feel self-loathing at the idea of being gay (since it was classified as a “sin”) or did you always think it was something that was totally ok?

Ah yes, self-loathing. I suffered from this for years! Not able to speak of it to anyone. From however old I was in Grade 6 all the way through High School, University, and well into the first couple years of working life. It was a lot of weight on my shoulders. I wasn’t in a good place. I struggled socially with others. I was awkward. I didn’t like to be seen in public. I was so self-conscious. Knowing I was gay always had me worrying that I wasn’t going to make it into God’s Kingdom. I remember 9/11 happening and thinking that I really needed to pray and study harder as time was running out. I had also started looking at gay porn in early High School. Always felt guilty afterwards. I was so desperate to not jerk-off growing up that I had started marking a calendar to see how many days I could go! Yes, like that Seinfeld episode, “The Contest”. If only I had laughed about it as opposed to stressing and worrying. It didn’t help matters. I’d make it a short amount of time, “screw-up”, pray, try again. It didn’t help the self loathing. Looking back on it now I don’t understand the hangup religion has with masturbation. Everyone does it. Okay, maybe not everyone, but pretty close.

5) How did you feel when ministers would denigrate gays (both in society and personally as a “sin”)?

In my childhood and teenage years It was actually me who would denigrate homosexuality and gays; yes, me. In hindsight my thought process was that if God saw me vocalizing my disdain towards homosexuality, then surely he’d answer my prayers and take those feelings away from me. It also took me a while to realize that not all gay men are “effeminate” as was commonly portrayed on television; not all gays are stereotypical. There were times in sermons where I’d get cold sweats when the subject of homosexuality came up. Stay calm Philip! Don’t give them reason to suspect you! Now fast forward to just prior my leaving the church. I was sitting in a sermon by none other than God’s Apostle (don’t get me started), Gerald Flurry. In this sermon, he was letting loose a heated rant against gays and homosexuals. As I’m sitting there daydreaming, I had the happiest vision in my mind. One where I was no longer attending church, openly gay, with a boyfriend! I’m not making this up, honest. I was grinning ear to ear. I knew at that moment that that’s exactly what I wanted for my life. That that’s what would make me happy.

Apendix: The Twelve Rules of the Closet

THE FIRST RULE OF THE CLOSET: For a long time the priesthood was the ideal escape-route for young homosexuals. Homosexuality is one of the keys to their vocation.

THE SECOND RULE OF THE CLOSET: Homosexuality spreads the closer one gets to the holy of holies; there are more and more homosexuals as one rises through the Catholic hierarchy. In the College of Cardinals and at the Vatican, the preferential selection process is said to be perfected; homosexuality becomes the rule, heterosexuality the exception.

THE THIRD RULE OF THE CLOSET: The more vehemently opposed a cleric is to gays, the stronger his homophobic obsession, the more likely it is that he is insincere, and that his vehemence conceals something.

THE FOURTH RULE OF THE CLOSET: The more pro-gay a cleric is, the less likely he is to be gay; the more homophobic a cleric is, the more likely he is to be homosexual.

THE FIFTH RULE OF THE CLOSET: Rumours, gossip, settling of scores, revenge and sexual harassment are rife in the holy see. The gay question is one of the mainsprings of these plots.

THE SIXTH RULE OF THE CLOSET: Behind the majority of cases of sexual abuse there are priests and bishops who have protected the aggressors because of their own homosexuality and out of fear that it might be revealed in the event of a scandal. The culture of secrecy that was needed to maintain silence about the high prevalence of homosexuality in the Church has allowed sexual abuse to be hidden and predators to act.

THE SEVENTH RULE OF THE CLOSET: The most gay-friendly cardinals, bishops and priests, the ones who talk little about the homosexual question, are generally heterosexual.

THE EIGHTH RULE OF THE CLOSET: In prostitution in Rome between priests and Arab escorts, two sexual poverties come together: the profound frustration of Catholic priests is echoed in the constraints of Islam, which make heterosexual acts outside of marriage difficult for a young Muslim.

THE NINTH RULE OF THE CLOSET: The homophiles of the Vatican generally move from chastitiy toward homosexuality; homosexuals never go into reverse gear and become homophilic.

THE TENTH RULE OF THE CLOSET: Homosexual priests and theologians are much more inclined to impose priestly celibacy than their heterosexual co-religionists. They are very concerned to have this vow of chastity respected, even though it is intrinsically against nature.

THE ELEVENTH RULE OF THE CLOSET: Most nuncios are homosexual, but their diplomacy is essentially homophobic. They are denouncing what they are themselves. As for cardinals, bishops and priests, the more they travel, the more suspect they are!

THE TWELFTH RULE OF THE CLOSET: Rumours peddled about the homosexuality of a cardinal or a prelate are often leaked by homosexuals, themselves closeted, attacking their liberal opponents. They are essentially weapons used in the Vatican against gays by gays.