Tuesday, April 14, 2015

More Notes on the Vatican's Refusal of the Appointment of the Gay French Ambassador: Who Might Be Doing What to Whom

As I said several days ago when I last spoke about what's being reported re: the French government's appointment of Laurent Stéfanini as ambassador to the Vatican, I don't really like discussions that center on tidbits of gossip traded around in murky corridors of princes' palaces — e.g., in the dark corridors of the Vatican. The whispering, the sordid intrigue, the nastiness, the back-stabbing: if none of this has ever interested me within gay male culture (and there are definitely opaque corners of gay male culture that batten on this kind of activity), why would it interest me in the Vatican?

In my work chairing theology departments and then heading the academic division of universities, I quickly learned how unscrupulous many faculty members could be, as they sought to draw me as their supervisor into their internecine battles, and to use me as a tool in those battles. I learned to listen to anyone who wanted to bend my ear — that's the job of an academic administrator — but to be very slow to act, unless the situation demanded immediate action. 

I learned to behave this way because I could quickly see, from the very inception of my administrative work, how easy it is to be manipulated, to be made a pawn in games being played by others which have nothing to do with the ostensible purpose of a complaint or a report. The specific kind of byzantine court intrigue in which Vatican operatives excel, with its rumor-mongering, tattling, and trap-setting: even to address the rumors that emanate from that environment is to be in danger of being dragged into the game and used for the unsavory purposes of those who want people's reactive commentary to assist them in creating memes and spreading them.

(Not that I am in any way situated to hear any kind of insider chit-chat in church circles. Far from it. But since the Catholic media do comment on these matters, and what the media say about such issues has implications for the lives and views of Catholics far removed from the Vatican, I sometimes find myself reading and thinking about this kind of commentary — as with the case of Stéfanini.) For what it's worth, here are some pieces of commentary I've read recently that I think are definitely worth thinking about:

In Global Pulse today, Robert Mickens provides one of the most comprehensive statements yet about what's going on with the Stéfanini appointment. He notes something I have read no place else: namely, that though Stéfanini is gay, he's not openly gay, or wasn't openly gay until this story outed him. Because the French media (and the media in other places) had been speaking about Stéfanini as if he's openly gay from the time this story first broke in the news a week or so ago, I had taken for granted that he is public about his life as a gay man.

According to Mickens, Stéfanini is no more openly gay than are "Cardinals X, Bishops Y or Fathers Z." Here's what Mickens has to say on this point: 

Mr. Stefanini keeps his sexuality private. He is not in a gay marriage or civil partnership, the reason the Vatican reportedly refused to receive an ambassador that Nicola Sarkozy had proposed in 2007. And he does not publicly support any gay groups or "lobbies."
In short, he is not a gay activist or a public advocate of the so-called "gay agenda," a bogeyman that scares the wits out of so many men in the hierarchy — including those like Cardinal Raymond Burke that fancy themselves "manly men."

And so, given that Laurent Stéfanini is precisely the kind of person that Pope Francis would seem to have had in mind when he famously mused, "If a person is gay and is seeking the Lord and is of good will, then who am I to judge him?," Mickens asks why Francis has (as is being reported) refused his appointment as French ambassador to the Vatican?

Mickens rejects out of hand one of the two explanations being bandied about in Vatican circles: this is that the Vatican is resisting this appointment because it was designed by French president François Hollande to embarrass the Vatican. In Mickens's view, it's far more likely that someone in the Vatican has made a point of resisting this appointment (and influencing Pope Francis to deny it) in order to embarrass Hollande by outing his ambassadorial appointment. 

In a piece yesterday at National Catholic Reporter, Robert Mickens adds to the proposal that the Stéfanini situation has been created by someone within the Vatican to embarrass Hollande — he adds the suggestion that someone inside the Vatican is also trying to place Pope Francis himself in a touchy situation, in which he'll be damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Mickens writes, 

Someone inside the Vatican seems to have created the lingering impasse by claiming that the 54-year-old diplomat, one of his country's finest, is openly gay. In fact, Mr. Stefanini is extremely discreet and keeps his sexuality a private matter. A practicing Catholic, he is not in a civil partnership or same-sex marriage (both legal in France), nor does he identify publicly with any "gay causes."

That this situation definitely leaves Pope Francis with egg on his face continues to be evident in the commentary of the secular media. See, par exemple, the tongue-in-cheek article this week in Le Gorafi, the French equivalent of The Onion, which observes repeatedly that the pope is not a homophobe . . . but. The word mais recurs as a refrain in the brief satirical essay — ten times in three short paragraphs — as a mocking refrain to point out the difference between what the pastors of the Catholic church say about gay people, and what they then do to gay people.

And surely that mockery is richly deserved. I'd be hard-pressed to think of any institution in Western culture today so twisted, so sick, in its response to homosexuality and its treatment of LGBT human beings. The disdain or outright hatred of the evangelical right for gay folks is at least out in the open and undisguised. It does not embarrass itself by trying to claim, as the U.S. Catholic bishops do, that it's opposed to anti-gay discrimination and loves gay folks to pieces.

Outside, say, Moscow or Uganda or the Islamic countries of the Middle East, it's hard to think of any culture today in which exposing people's homosexuality continues to carry such weight as a political tool as it carries in the Catholic hierarchy. As the rest of the world moves on — far down a very different road, towards respect for LGBT people as human beings — the Catholic church, with its clerical elite full to the brim with gay men, almost all of them strictly closeted, remains one of the few institutions in the West in which it's still possible to play such twisted, sick, dysfunctional games over issues of sexual orientation.

Well, come to think of it, there's the Republican party, too, isn't there?

Self-respecting gay folks who want healthy lives would be well advised to avoid both institutions, methinks. To run from them as from the plague.

(I'm grateful to my Facebook friend Jean-François Garneau for providing the links to the Global Pulse and Le Gorafi articles.)

I find the photo of M. Poirot with his magnifying glass (played by David Suchet) at a number of blog sites, with no clear information about its source.

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