Towards the end of last week, a story kept popping up on the internet, mostly on conservative Catholics’ sites, that the existence of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican had been confirmed by Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, who is the coordinator of Pope Francis’ council of nine cardinal advisors.
The cardinal made his remark during an interview with a Honduran newspaper. If you can read Spanish, you can read the entire story by clicking here. Basically, the cardinal “confirmed,” without offering any evidence, the existence of such a lobby in the Vatican. What is interesting, however, is that he “confirmed” this idea based on 2013 remarks made by Pope Francis, which were, at best, ambiguous about such a lobby, and, at face value, the pontiff mostly made fun of such an idea.
Crux provided context for the cardinal’s remarks:
“Rodriguez Maradiaga discussed the state of things in the Vatican in his local Honduran newspaper ‘El Heraldo,’ confirming that in his view there is a ‘gay lobby’ inside the Roman Curia.
“By ‘gay lobby,’ Vatican insiders and the Italian press generally mean an informal network of gay clergy in the Vatican who support one another, and who have a vested interest in keeping one another’s secrets and helping one another move up the ladder.
“(For the record, when Francis was asked back in 2013 if he had found a gay support network in the Vatican, his response was, ‘I have yet to find someone who can give me a Vatican ID card with “gay” [written on it] … they say they are there.’ Earlier, during an informal session with Latin American leaders of religious orders, the pontiff reportedly said he would ‘see what we can do’ about the network.)”
If a gay lobby exists, why doesn’t anyone speak of the evidence of such a network? Where are the facts? While all of this can make for sensational headlines, the main problem is that there is really nothing to back it up.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Like most people, I assume that there are gay men working at the Vatican. If the cardinal knows about them, why isn’t he, or any church leader, willing to talk about them? Why mention them only through vague allusions?
There’s also a problem when a leading cardinal identifies a supposed “gay lobby,” but doesn’t acknowledge that special interest groups based on other ideas would also exist in the Vatican–or any other organization. Why single out a “gay lobby”?
The cardinal’s lack of evidence about the presence and activities of gay men in the Vatican seems to indicate an unwillingness to speak about gay issues in a realistic manner—a quality exhibited, unfortunately, by many senior church officials. The real problem this story illustrates is not that there are gay men working in the Vatican, but that church officials aren’t able to speak about their presence in an open, healthy, and mature fashion.
Another of the problem with this story comes from the double use of the word “lobby.” It can be used, as Crux described above, to describe a secret network of gay clerics, who support one another. (In another Crux article, John Allen analyzes this use of the term.) But then, in American English, it also has the connotations of a group that is promoting an agenda.
In terms of the first use of the word—to describe a network—I would have to say that if such a network does exist, it is created by the institutional homophobia which church structures and policies promote. So much of the church’s leadership exhibits an immense inability to acknowledge and discuss the fact that a good number of the members of the hierarchy and the clergy are themselves gay. This silence and secrecy harms individuals, as well as the whole community. It provides a fertile ground for informal networks of protection to grow. In other words, if the Church hierarchy wants to purge any supposed gay lobby, they should purge silence, secrecy, and homophobia from the Church.
In the second sense of the word “lobby”—as a group promoting an agenda—the best evidence against the existence of a lobby is that if it did exist, it is doing a very bad job of promoting its agenda. If there were really a powerful gay lobby, how come we still have so many homophobic remarks coming from church leaders? Why isn’t there a more robust agenda for moving LGBT issues forward in the Vatican? Where was this lobby when Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, a Vatican official, came out of the closet? Why no statement from the Vatican against LGBT criminalization laws? Where are the results of the gay lobby?
It always amazes me that some people think that LGBT people are more powerful than the evidence shows.
This shady way of arguing exhibits classic conspiracy theory tactics: invent an enemy, which is invisible, which is infiltrating from the inside, but which can’t be proved or disproved. The suggestion creates fear and suspicion, but worse, it characterizes the selected group as evil, manipulative, and duplicitous.
Conspiracy theories pop up when one side of a discussion (in this case, Catholics who do not want change) feels as if they are losing the argument. It is simply a way to discredit the other side and to try to offer an alternative explanation of why the argument is being lost–instead of just relying on logic and rational discourse. It is a tactic used from ancient times to contemporary politics. It is laughable, except for the fact that it can cause harm because some people will believe. it.
Our church needs so many improvements in regard to LGBT ministry and justice. Discussing this red herring takes away from having a real conversation on the real issues. Let’s hope and pray that, instead, church leaders will start an open and healthy discussion on LGBT issues with all in their church, including and especially, their brothers in the clergy.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry