Frédéric Martel, the author of the controversial In the Closet of the Vatican published earlier this year, has responded to his critics by saying Catholics do not like the truth and the church is “burning and threatening to collapse.”
Martel’s lengthy response, totaling more than 12,000 words, was posted as part of Syndicate’s online symposium on the book about homosexuality and the Vatican. He covered six points: the book’s origins, the book’s sources, sexual abuse, church reform, and the role of Vatican journalists and specialists in the book’s reception. To read Martel’s full response, click here. For previous Bondings 2.0 posts on Syndicate’s symposium, click here and here.
As to why he undertook the project of studying homosexuality in the Vatican, Martel said that while certain subjects, such as gay priests, have been previously examined, those authors “did not question the model itself.” More specifically, Martel claimed to be unique in the “immersive journalism” he did to study the “structural, systematic, and widespread phenomenon” of homosexuality in the church. He commented that his only motivation was to seek the truth and describe reality, adding:
“The problem is that, from now on, the Church’s massive scandals of sexual abuse cannot be understood—and thus cannot be corrected—without revealing the complex connection that this culture of secrecy and this widespread cover-up maintain with homosexuality. I will come back to this point further on. To my eyes, one cannot understand anything about the Vatican without the taking into consideration the homosexual element (which Pope Francis has often suggested to us). Discussing the Catholic Church without attending to its intrinsically homosexual aspect dooms one to continue misunderstanding how the church functions. Those who proceed this way will continue to fail to understand the scandals for a long time, proceeding from disillusionment to disillusionment.”
Against critics who questioned Martel’s sourcing, the author suggested “you really need a lot of bad faith to deny—or, just as likely—to not have read the book” to critique it for not being well-sourced. He pointed to the 300 pages of citations published online as evidence that every claim he made was verifiable, even if he could not list every source because it may be illegal to do so or would forcibly “out” someone living. You can read the specifics of certain disputed sources in Martel’s full response, but he reiterated theologian James Alison’s point that:
“‘Labeling something ‘mere gossip’ can also contribute to cover-up. All those who dismissed those tales as “mere gossip” were, as a matter of fact, contributing to their cover-up.’ Rejecting my book on the ground of ‘innuendo’, ‘insinuations’ and ‘gossip’ thus comes down to maintaining a ‘state lie’ and, in a way, to allowing the crisis of sexual abuse to continue.
“All those who criticize the project of my book are thus at a fundamental impasse, out of naivety or calculation: they denounce a book made of ‘rumors” and “insinuations’ to discredit it, but they know very well that a book with ‘proof’ could never exist. As a result, it is the very existence of the book that disturbs them so deeply—which explains why, most of the time, these critics haven’t even taken the time to read the book before criticizing it, contrary to the most elementary code of ethics.”
Martel answered critics who questioned the decision to release In the Closet of the Vatican the same week as a major summit on clergy sexual abuse began in Rome. The author responded that he could not have intended this release time when he began research five years ago and that sexual abuse crises have become so frequent, publication may have been tied to any of them. He added:
“But there is a more serious reason that justifies the publication of this book during the summit on sexual abuse: I regret having to write this, but it is clear that my book provides the newest and most substantial key to explaining the majority of sexual abuse cases. . .The lie about the sexuality of priests, the concealment of the majority of the clergy’s repressed or active homosexuality, and the organized cover-up of these lies all contribute to the continuation of abuse. . .Homosexuality thus has no direct link to sexual abuse, but it does a great deal to explain the system of ‘cover-ups.'”
Martel criticized Vaticanists, or specialists and journalists with a focus on the Vatican, who “sometimes tend to betray the rules of their profession” and are therefore “scandalous.” He explained:
“In and of itself, there is nothing to criticize about the fact of journalists being designated ‘Vaticanist’ by their editorial staff to regularly cover the Vatican, just as there are embedded journalists at the White House or, in France, at the Élysée Palace. What is problematic is to favor Vatican sources regarding the investigation of facts and to serve the Holy See more faithfully than one’s readers. This is why there are no Vaticanists in France—nobody would consider them credible journalists if they were so dependent on the Vatican!”
Problems arise, however, when the line between journalism and the Vatican’s talking points becomes blurred because because of journalists’ dependence on the Vatican. Martel critically named many names in his response, including Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter, Frank Bruni of The New York Times, Fr. James Martin, SJ, of America, several Italian journalists, and others.
In conclusion, Martel claimed that by writing In the Closet of the Vatican, he had “done the Church a service. . .which I believe will be recognized in the medium to long term” for its “exigency for truth meets the exigency for truth of Pope Francis.”
February 18, 2019: “New Book on Homosexuality at the Vatican Concerns Advocates for Gay Priests“
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 11, 2019