Theological Forum Publishes Review Series on New Book, “In the Closet of the Vatican”

Maeve Heaney

The latest additions to the discussion surrounding Frédéric Martel’s controversial new book, In the Closet of the Vatican, include a number of reviews from Catholic theologians and pastoral ministers, whose work appears on an online humanities forum.

Syndicate, which is described as a “discursive space where mutual inquiry and collaboration are encouraged and nourished,” published the series of ten reviews over the last two weeks. This Bondings 2.0 post features highlights from the series. To read all the reviews in full, visit Syndicate’s website here. For more information on In the Closet of the Vatican’s contents and for previous reviews, click here.

The Syndicate series notably includes two women’s voices in a conversation which has been quite male-dominated. Maeve Heaney, an Australian theologian, described the book as “long, hard to read (for many reasons), at times repetitive and [a] bit convoluted” yet which is not to be dismissed for it is “quite courageous and reflects years of research.” She raised two questions that may need to be addressed given the book’s claims:

“The first is the Magisterium’s capacity to fulfill its mission to faithfully interpret revelation and the signs of the times for those it governs. How can we trust its guidance if bias blinds or conditions perception and judgement? The second is a consequence of the first: what issues have been and still are sidelined as a result of this situation? Can or should we revisit past decisions on important issues to see if and how context and corruption compromised the promised presence of the Spirit to guide the Church ‘to the whole truth’?”

Heaney, who aids in ministerial formation, also suggested that the theology of priesthood needed review, that formation programs be improved in priestly formation, and that women need to be included because she sees that a sub-theme of the book is “misogyny and repressed homosexuality are often happy bedfellows.”

Brian Flanagan

Brian Flanagan, a U.S. theologian, reviewed the book as “part Bob Woodward getting the dirt from his inside sources, part Alexis de Tocqueville wandering in a strange new world, and part Page Six of the New York Post [a gossip sheet].” Flanagan wrote that while his “preferred vehicle” for dealing with power and sexuality in the Church would not have been this book given its problematic aspects, Catholics “dare not look away” either. He said the fundamental question about Martel’s work is, “is it true?”:

“I am not in a position to evaluate any of the particulars of Martel’s claims, but neither, frankly, are most other readers. Like that of a journalist embedded in a wartime unit, Martel’s testimony is all we’ve got. And while the reliance upon anonymous sources, hearsay, and rumor is unfortunate, how else could he have gotten any of this information? In some ways, it stands or falls as a whole upon Martel’s truthworthiness. . .One can, and journalists and researchers should, further investigate particular details, particular charges and insinuations, and particular places where Martel’s interlocutors have misled him or where he himself has undermined his credibility through insinuation and speculation. But the overall portrait seems vero [true].”

Andrew Sullivan, who has offered his own commentary on In the Closet of the Vatican, extolled Flanagan’s review as “the fairest” he had read.

Luigi Gioia

Luigi Gioia, a theologian currently teaching in the U.K., said Martel offered “accurate description” which will be so necessary to addressing not only homosexuality in the priesthood, but wider distortions about sexuality in the Church:

“Martel’s book shows the way. We need to meet the characters, hear the stories, understand the fears, face the contradictions, decipher the codes. We need to listen to the voices of the priests who have found a balance in their celibate lives but also of those who struggle with it. We need to understand the strain and the heavy burden imposed on gay priests: they are supposed not even to exist, since gay people are theoretically not allowed in the priesthood; they are scapegoated for the abuse crisis by those who are unwilling to acknowledge the latter’s real cause, namely clericalism. Truthful description is the only antidote to a denial so fierce and so entrenched that its very enforcers have become numb to its absurdity and its alienating character.”

Other reviewers include Fr. James Martin, S.J. and theologian Fr. James Alison, whose commentaries Bondings 2.0 has previously covered here and here respectively. To read the full reviews on the Syndicate’s website, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 5, 2019

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