LGBTQ Advocates’ Reviews Split Over New Book, “In the Closet of the Vatican”

A new book on homosexuality and the Vatican released last week has generated a number of reviews and commentaries, some praising it, some panning it. Today’s post highlights several reviews from advocates for LGBTQ equality,with links provided for further reading.

The book, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy by the French journalist and sociologist Frédéric Martel, was released on February 21st, the opening day of the Vatican’s summit on sexual abuse.  Many predicted the book would overshadow the meeting, but it was mentioned only infrequently in news articles about the event. (For more on the book’s contents and some initial reviews, click here.)

Fr. James Alison, a gay priest and theologian, offered his thoughts on the book for ABC (Australia). Alison, who was a named source in the book, suggested that with book’s publication “the merely anecdotal is, at last, acquiring the contours of sociological visibility.”

In a 7,500 word reflection, Alison commented that his own experiences of the clerical closet had been validated by Martel. He also speculated about possible reactions to the book and proposed outcomes in the Church that the book may prompt. He wrote that there is no going back after the book’s publication for “what is once seen, cannot be unseen”:

Fr. James Alison

“There will be a number of immediate reactions to Martel’s book, attempts to make it part of current culture-war discussions, quite possibly a deluge of outrage from people who have not bothered to read its more than five-hundred pages. Indeed, while Martel’s prose is clear, elegant and sometimes very funny, this is a sophisticated book. . .So, it will be some time before readers can assess the book themselves, and time again before what we learn from it sinks in. Of one thing I am sure: what is once seen, cannot be unseen. And once it is seen, that very fact will cause deep disruption to the system of mendacity that is both being brought into the light and shown a mirror.”

Alison expressed a desire that “Church authority might receive the knowledge imparted by this book with serenity and gratitude as a genuine boost to living the Gospel more fully,” but had little hope this course of action would occur. Still, the priest hoped Martel’s book would give “strong impetus” to the process of the Church reforming its understanding of homosexuality. To read his full review, click here.

Fr. Donald Cozzens

Another priest and critic of the Church, Fr. Donald Cozzens reviewed the book for the National Catholic Reporter. He wrote that Inside the Closet of the Vatican will “leave you breathless” given that Martel “quite masterfully” connects the dots between sex and power in the Church. Cozzens commented:

“Martel accomplished his objective — revealing the duplicity and hypocrisy of the hierarchical church. His call for honesty and integrity can be joined by all factions of our divided, polarized church. And he shouldn’t be faulted for not acknowledging the goodness, integrity and self-giving service evident in the lives of many Vatican officials and prelates stationed around the world. Still, in the midst of corruption, lust and greed, we need to acknowledge the grace and holiness evident in the lives of many who serve the church.”

Cozzens expressed his belief that the book would not stoke anti-gay fires of right wing Catholics, and asked rightly about who funded Martel’s extensive research and publication (as well as the need for an index, which the book lacks). To read the full review, click here.

Gerard O’Connell

Far less positive about the book is America’s Vatican correspondent, Gerard O’Connell, who described the book’s writing as “tabloid manner” and claimed it raised questions of journalistic ethics. O’Connell explained (the full review is available here):

“Mr. Martel’s book raises many questions, but it also produces a toxic cloud of suspicion over many cardinals, bishops and priests that will be difficult to dissipate or neutralize. . .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.”

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter likewise negatively reviewed the book, writing he “could not bring myself to read page after page of such sweeping claims, such salacious gossip, such trafficking in stereotypes.” Winters sharply criticized it (the full review is available here):

“Such stereotypes would be denounced as sheer bigotry if they came from a straight man (and would not get reprinted in NCR). Why is Martel given a pass to traffic in them because he is gay? Bigotry is repugnant no matter the source. . .This book is the gay equivalent of a Viganò testimonianza. There is just enough truth to catch people’s attention, but it is all intermingled with insinuations and what can charitably be called mistakes. Viganò wanted to settle scores. Martel hopes to make a lot of money, even using the occasion of the first global meeting to stamp out sex abuse of minors to launch his book. Both are shameless. Neither is serious.”

Andrew Sullivan

Finally, gay Catholic writer Andrew Sullivan discussed the book for New York Magazine, where he called it “devastating,” “bewildering,” and personally “gutting.” Sullivan, like Alison, said the Church cannot now dismiss what Martel has exposed, even if the author “overdoes it a bit” at times. His support for the book, even though painful, is quite strong and he links it to the real connection between homosexuality and the clergy abuse crisis:

“I urge every Catholic to read it, however difficult that may be. It will also be fascinating to see how the various factions within Catholicism will respond to it. . .My own view is that all that matters is the truth. ‘Be not afraid!’ as John Paul II once said. ‘Of what should we not be afraid? We should not be afraid of the truth about ourselves.’ Critically, Martel reaches the same conclusion I did recently — the omertà of the closet was a core reason for sex abuse. Gay priests felt unable to report pedophiles or abusers or hypocrites because they too could be outed by the abusers and forced out. There is no vast organized conspiracy. There is no ‘gay lobby.’ There is a ‘honeycomb of closets,’ often insulated from each other, built on deception and self-hatred, that amounts to a system where protecting the image of the church became far more important than saving children from rapists. There can be no meaningful reform until this closet is ended, and the whole sick, twisted syndrome is unwound.”

Sullivan expressed hope that Pope Francis seemingly is attacking this unhealthy clericalist culture, but concluded his review with these words: “It is difficult to express the heartbroken rage so many of us in the pews now feel.”

For more information about Inside the Closet of the Vatican and to see reviews from Fr. James Martin, S.J., Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., and columnist for The New York Times Frank Bruni, click here. Bondings 2.0 will continue to update readers as new reviews and commentaries of this most controversial book are released. For daily updates on all the latest Catholic LGBT news, opinion, and spirituality, enter your email address in the “Subscribe” box in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 1, 2019

1 reply
  1. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    Thanks for this compilation, Bob. I have hope that what has been seen cannot be unseen. The duplicity that is at the core of the RC culture needs a strong light shone on it.


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