Did Pope Francis read Frédéric Martel’s controversial new book on homosexuality and the Vatican? One news report says yes and that he rather liked it.
Crux cited an anonymous source described as “a prominent advocate in the fight against clerical abuse” who allegedly spoke with the pontiff during a private audience. The source said Francis mentioned the book, In the Closet of the Vatican, and his own awareness of gay priests. The report continued:
“‘He said he read it. He said it was good and that he knew of many of them [priests named as allegedly gay]. We discussed good gays and the gays who are evil, but because of power,’ the advocate said in a text message obtained by Crux [which was originally sent to Martel].
The news report lacks any further information about the alleged conversation with Pope Francis or about his reading of the book. Without such information, it is hard to determine how credible the report is or what he might think of the book given his mixed record on LGBTQ issues.
One fact is clear: Martel has not relented in his attempts to promote the book. The author spoke with Crux in a new interview during which he described the book as “the key to sexual abuse in the Church” because while homosexuality is not a cause of such abuse, “all the stories of cover-up are intrinsically linked to homosexuality.” He claims 90% of bishops who cover up abuse are gay. Exposing these lies and abuses means, according to Martel, that “one day my book will be seen as a book that helped the Church. . .and the people who now lie all the time about sexual abuse are in fact contributing to destroying the Church.”
Martel also commented on former Pope Benedict XVI’s letter on the sexual abuse crisis published in April, calling it “nonsense” because abuse was not about shifting sexual norms but about priests who “never lived the sexual liberation.”
Finally, Martel addressed sales of the book which have topped 300,000 globally in under three months, nearly a third of which were in sold in France. Crux quoted the author as suggesting “the reception of the book depends on the state of Catholicism in each country,” where some nations are ready and others are not for the hard truths Martel claims to reveal. For this reason, he explains that sales in Italy are low for fear of offending the Vatican.
Opinions have been split, including among LGBTQ advocates, since In the Closet of the Vatican was released in February. Some advocates have feared he negative impact it could have on gay priests. However, theologian James Alison, has said it is finally addressing the “elephant in the sacristy,” and others have agreed with his assessment. For more in-depth reviews, consider reading pieces from Syndicate’s online forum and here as well.
One critique repeated several times has been about Martel’s sourcing, described by some as poorly documented and too reliant on anonymity. Now with Crux’s report, Catholics are left once again to read tea leaves based on an anonymous source. This approach is insufficient.
If Pope Francis is truly concerned with reforming the Church, in particular the Curia, he has to lead others by a courageous example of clearly informing the Church about his thoughts: Does he support the ban on gay priests? Is he truly worried about gay men entering seminaries? Or are his concerns specifically about maintaining vows of celibacy? And if so, does he have the same concerns about heterosexual priests? What role, if any, does he think homosexuality has played in the sexual abuse crisis?
Answering these questions does not require yes/no binary or simplistic answers. He can be nuanced. He can admit his own doubts or uncertainties. He can be clear that his thoughts are not authoritative, that he too is still in process of discerning what is right. But the people of God at least deserve his clear and open honesty about where he is at and what he thinks now. Such openness would defuse the anonymous reports and ambiguity that can be petty at best and damaging to people’s lives at worst.
Previous posts on Bondings 2.0 about In the Closet of the Vatican:
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 14, 2019