Sunday, February 24, 2019

Frédéric Martel's In the Closet of the Vatican: Valuable Commentary — "A Dishonest System Cannot Demand Honesty"

I have not read Frédéric Martel's explosive new book In the Closet of the Vatican, about which there has been a flurry of commentary since it was officially released this past week as the Vatican meeting on sex abuse began. So I'm not able to comment on the book itself. I do intend to read it soon. 

What I can comment on is some of the commentary I've read. There is, of course, much hand-wringing from predictable quarters that always mount reflexive defenses of the clerical club running the Catholic institution; there's the defensive suggestion that Martel's book is a gotcha gossip-fest that ought not to be taken seriously. There's also the more substantive concern that it's a nifty tool being handed to the hard homophobic right wing of the Catholic church to engage in further gay-bashing and blaming of gay priests for the abuse crisis. 

Of the commentary I've read, analysis by a number of out gay Catholic thinkers seems to me most worth noting This book is an opportunity for the Catholic journalistic world to move beyond its usual refusal to listen seriously or give a place of respect to out gay (and lesbian and transgender and bisexual) Catholic voices and do some receptive listening — for a change — to such voices. What they have to tell us about Martel's book may be among the most important things that are being said by the book's readers.

As with everything James Alison writes, his "Welcome to my world: Notes on the reception of Frédéric Martel's bombshell" is thoughtful, well-informed, and very insightful. As Alison begins by noting, Martel's book poses an important framing question:

How and why is it that the principal institutional obstacle to LGBT rights at the worldwide level appears itself to be massively staffed by gay men?

In Alison's view, the heart of Martel's book, and why it needs to be read seriously, especially by all Catholics and others concerned with the abuse horror show in the Catholic church, is the following:

This is emphatically not a book about clerical child abuse; nevertheless, the systemic nature of the mendacity that is revealed does have important consequences for understanding how the cover up of child abuse has been so prevalent. The same systemic mendacity throws light on how and why a whole generation of senior clergy, from the end of the Second Vatican Council onward, failed to engage with the public learning process concerning homosexuality, though this public learning has, to a greater or lesser extent, characterised all of us, in all cultures, over the last fifty years or more. Survey after survey has shown that the senior clergy's recalcitrant failure to learn in this sphere has played as great a role in their loss for the Gospel of entire generations of the faithful as their tendency to cover up for priestly abusers.

A key point of Alison's report: as he insists, from the middle of the 20th century, the human community has as a whole been involved in a genuine learning experience — that some people are gay and always will be; that gay people are in their midst, in their families, in their workplaces, in their religious communities, and will no longer accept being made invisible.

But instead of choosing to participate in this learning experience of the whole human community, the hierarchy of the Catholic church has chosen, instead, to go into panic mode, to hype up the lying and pretending, and to try in every way possible to attack open, self-accepting, unapologetic gay people who refuse to continue playing the closet games. All this is directly related, Alison suggests, to Martel's argument about the dynamics that produce the cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church — not because that abuse is being done by gay priests, but because the habit of systemic mendacity is deeply ingrained, due to the effect of the closet within the church's clerical structures.

Alison writes,

[T]he general tendency since the end of the Second World War towards the visibility and non-pathological normalcy of gay people has proved not to be a fad, nor some form of societal degeneration, but a genuine process of human learning of something true about ourselves. Church authority showed itself to be learning about the shifting of institutional structures at the time of the Second Vatican Council, but thereafter became so panicked by the emergence of gay normalcy as to deny reality and double down in enforcing dishonesty on its own very large gay population. 
In the Closet of the Vatican witnesses to the failure of that campaign, for what used to be unmentionable has become more and more easily discussable without much fuss. People have ever higher expectations of honesty in this area. More and more young people can detect straight away that a clergyman who refuses to say whether he is straight or gay, but hides by saying that he is celibate, is in fact a dishonest gay man, with all the resulting social dysfunctionality which can be expected from that. Where strident homophobia used to be read as a sign of true masculinity, now it raises more titters about the one speaking than about the objects of his aversion.


What the evidence suggests is not that the high proportion of gay men among the clergy leads to more child abuse, but that the universal clerical dishonesty concerning homosexuality, independently of whether continence is practised, is strongly correlated to the ecclesiastical habit of cover-up which has kicked in wherever questions of child abuse have been raised.  


A dishonest system cannot demand honesty from its recruits, since in a dishonest system even the demand is dishonestly made and will be dishonestly received. 

As to the worry that this book will provide a tool to the hard homophobic Catholic right to do more gay-bashing and gay priest-bashing: Alison notes that if that sector of the church actually reads Martel's book, it will encounter a world of evidence "that gay men with double lives are, if anything, even more present in the traditionalist, and publicly gay-hating, wing of the Church than elsewhere." So:

Who is to conduct the purge for which they long, if the need to purge homosexuality in others is itself one of the strongest indicators of badly-lived homosexuality?

In his statement about Martel's book, "The Corruption of the Vatican's Gay Elite Has Been Exposed," Andrew Sullivan underscores that same point about who's to conduct the homophobic purge for which the hard Catholic right lusts, when Martel forces us to take a close look at folks like that notorious anti-gay leader of the Catholic right Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, whom Saint John Paul the Great sicced on liberation theologians and priests seeking to live in solidarity with the poor in Latin America. Under St. John Paul the Great, Trujillo was promoted to the position of president of the Pontifical Council for the Family (!), though it was an open and notorious secret that his bedroom had a revolving door, so to speak, for young men, seminarians, rent boys: "[I]n fact he slept with anybody," Sullivan states. 


This was the figure who spearheaded the war on gays in the 1980s and 1990s, who forbade the use of condoms, who spread the lie that condoms don't protect anyone from HIV. And yet when he died, Benedict XVI gave the homily at the funeral mass.

Sullivan's summary of Martel's central point:

[Martel writes,] "Homosexuality spreads the closer one gets to the holy of holies; there are more and more homosexuals as one rises through the Catholic hierarchy. 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." It's a lesson I learned reporting my own recent essay on gay priests
And so it's not that huge a surprise to see how influenced Paul VI was by gay Catholic writers of the time. And it's highly predictable that John Paul II's pontificate, which launched a new war on homosexuals, turns out to be the gayest of them all — and the one most resistant to any inquiry into stories of sex abuse. His right-hand man and successor, Joseph Ratzinger, (the future Pope Benedict XVI) personally received notification of every claim of sex abuse in the church under John Paul II, ignoring most, and made the stigmatization and persecution of sane, adjusted non-abusive gay people across the globe his mission instead. There wasn't a theological dissident he didn’t notice and punish, but barely a single pedophile he found reason to expose.

I also recommend Donald Cozzens' enlightening commentary on Martel's book, "Duplicity, hypocrisy of the prelates exposed in Martel's 'Closet' book," which notes,

It's the duplicity and hypocrisy of these prelates that fire the drive of Martel and his researchers to bring into the light the sad and shocking behaviors of many of our church's leaders. In doing so, I kept thinking how everything is about sex, except sex and that sex is about power. What Martel does, quite masterfully, is to connect the dots that reveal an ecclesial system in profound decay. 
Here we discover how eros, especially homosexual eros, ambition, power, status and wealth have coalesced to fashion the corrosive clericalism that Pope Francis has decried and condemned. Francis understands there is something profoundly unreal at the root of clericalism, which Martel describes as "an oligarchic and condescending system devoted to the preservation of its own power regardless of the price." What is unreal for Francis is a rigidity posing as orthodoxy. "Behind the rigidity, there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life." In the Closet of the Vatican examines in impressive detail the double lives led by many of the church's prelates.

Remember Jason Berry's insistence that "Everything in this spreading crisis revolves around structural mendacity, institutionalized lying," which I featured in a recent posting

Well, 👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆👆

The photo of the cover of Martel's book is from its page at Amazon.

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