Bombshell book alleges a Vatican gay subculture, hypocrisy

French writer Frederic Martel gestures during an interview with Associated Press, in Paris, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. In the explosive book "In the Closet of the Vatican" author Frederic Martel describes a gay subculture at the Vatican and calls out the hypocrisy of Catholic bishops and cardinals who in public denounce homosexuality but in private lead double lives. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS (AP) — A gay French writer has lifted the lid on what he calls one of the world’s largest gay communities, the Vatican, estimating that most of its prelates are homosexually inclined and attributing much of the current crisis in the Catholic Church to an internecine war among them.

In the explosive book, “In the Closet of the Vatican,” author Frederic Martel describes a gay subculture at the Vatican and calls out the hypocrisy of Catholic bishops and cardinals who in public denounce homosexuality but in private lead double lives.

Aside from the subject matter, the book is astonishing for the access Martel had to the inner sanctum of the Holy See. Martel writes that he spent four years researching it in 30 countries, including weeks at a time living inside the Vatican walls. He says the doors were opened by a key Vatican gatekeeper and friend of Pope Francis who was the subject of the pontiff’s famous remark about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?”

In an interview Friday in a Paris hotel, Martel said he didn’t tell his subjects he was writing about homosexuality in the Vatican. But he said it should have been obvious to them since he is a gay man who was researching the inner world of the Vatican and has written about homosexuality before. He said it was easier for him, as a gay foreigner, to gain the trust of those inside the Vatican than it would have been for an Italian journalist or Vatican expert.

“If you’re heterosexual it’s even harder. You don’t have the codes,” he told The Associated Press. “If you’re a woman, even more so.”

Martel says he conducted nearly 1,500 in-person interviews with 41 cardinals, 52 bishops or monsignors, and 45 Vatican and foreign ambassadors, many of whom are quoted at length and in on-the-record interviews that he says were recorded. Martel said he was assisted by 80 researchers, translators, fixers and local journalists, as well as a team of 15 lawyers. The 555-page book is being published simultaneously in eight languages in 20 countries, many bearing the title “Sodom.”

The Vatican didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Martel appears to want to bolster Francis’ efforts at reforming the Vatican by discrediting his biggest critics and removing the secrecy and scandal that surrounds homosexuality in the church. Church doctrine holds that gays are to be treated with respect and dignity, but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”

“Francis knows that he has to move on the church’s stance, and that he will only be able to do this at the cost of a ruthless battle against all those who use sexual morality and homophobia to conceal their own hypocrisies and double lives,” Martel writes.

But the book’s Feb. 21 publication date coincides with the start of Francis’ summit of church leaders on preventing the sexual abuse of minors, a crisis that is undermining his papacy. The book isn’t about abuse, but the timing of its release could fuel the narrative, embraced by conservatives and rejected by the gay community, that the abuse scandal has been caused by homosexuals in the priesthood.

Martel is quick to separate the two issues. But he echoes the analysis of the late abuse researcher and psychotherapist A.W. Richard Sipe that the hidden sex lives of priests has created a culture of secrecy that allowed the abuse of minors to flourish. According to that argument, since many prelates in positions of authority have their own hidden sexual skeletons, they have no interest in denouncing the criminal pedophiles in their midst lest their own secrets be revealed.

“It’s a problem that it’s coming out at the same time (as the summit),” Martel acknowledged in the AP interview, adding that the book was finished last year but its release was delayed for translation. “But at the same time it’s, alas, the key to the problem. It’s both not the subject, and the subject.”

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “Building a Bridge” about how the Catholic Church should reach out more to the LGBT community, said that based on the excerpts he had read, Martel’s book “makes a convincing case that in the Vatican many priests bishops and even cardinals are gay, and that some of them are sexually active.”

But Martin added that the book’s sarcastic tone belies its fatal flaw. “His extensive research is buried under so much gossip and innuendo that it makes it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction.”

“There are many gay priests, bishops and cardinals in ministry today in the church,” Martin said. “But most of them are, like their straight counterparts, remaining faithful to a life of chastity and celibacy.”

In the course of his research, Martel said he came to several conclusions about the reality of the Holy See that he calls the “rules,” chief among them that the more obviously gay the priest, bishop or cardinal, the more vehement his anti-gay rhetoric.

Martel says his aim is not to “out” living prelates, though he makes some strong insinuations about those who are “in the parish,” a euphemism he learns is code for gay clergy.

Martin said Martel “traffics in some of the worst gay stereotypes” by using sarcastic and derogatory terms, such as when he writes of Francis’ plight: “Francis is said to be ‘among the wolves.’ It’s not quite true: he’s among the queens.”

Martel moves from one scandal to another — from the current one over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington to the priest-friendly gay migrant prostitute scene near Rome’s train station. He traces the reasons behind Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, and devotes a whole chapter to the cover-up of the Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ, the pedophile Rev. Marcial Maciel. In each, Martel parses the scandal through the lens of the gay-friendly or homophobic prelates he says were involved.

Equal parts investigative journalism and salacious gossip, Martel paints a picture of an institution almost at war with itself, rife with rumor and with leaders struggling to rationalize their own sexual appetites and orientations with official church teachings that require chastity and its unofficial tradition of hostility toward gays.

“Never, perhaps, have the appearances of an institution been so deceptive,” Martel writes.

“Equally deceptive are the pronouncements about celibacy and the vows of chastity that conceal a completely different reality.”

Martel is not a household name in France, but is known in the French LGBT community as an advocate for gay rights. Those familiar with his work view it as rigorous, notably his 90-minute weekly show on public radio station France Culture called “Soft Power.” Recent episodes include investigations into global digital investment and the U.S.-China trade war.

As a French government adviser in the 1990s, he played a prominent role in legislation allowing civil unions, which not only allowed gay couples to formalize their relationships and share assets, but also proved hugely popular among heterosexual French couples increasingly skeptical of marriage.

His nonfiction books include a treatise on homosexuality in France over the past 50 years called “The Pink and the Black” (a sendup of Stendhal’s classic “The Red and the Black”), as well as an investigation of the internet industry and a study of culture in the United States.

Martel attributes the high percentage of gays in the clergy to the fact that up until the homosexual liberation of the 1970s, gay Catholic men had few options. “So these pariahs became initiates and made a strength of a weakness,” he writes. That analysis helps explain the dramatic fall in vocations in recent decades, as gay Catholic men now have other options, not least to live their lives openly, even in marriage.

Martel said no special interests financed the book, other than his advance from the publisher.

(Winfield reported from Boston.)

About the author

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  • A this point I’m too exhausted defending my ontology (yet again) so I’ll just present the top comment to Frank Bruni’s article about this book in today’s NY Times:


    My sense is that gay men have not, until recently, been offered a path to an authentic and respectable life in society, and so many found one in the priesthood. Instead of being considered strange for never having married, or being forced into a life that fundamentally clashed with who they are by marrying women, some gay men may have seen the priesthood as a way to avoid suspicion while at the same time being considered a upstanding member of society.

    Indeed, that is true. Even to this day, you’ll hear Catholics saying of boys they suspect might be gay, “that one’s going to be a priest,” planting a seed in the boy’s mind. Growing up Catholic I heard that said many times. In other words, “don’t embarrass the family by parading your homosexuality out in the open, do the respectable thing and become a priest.”

  • Something we ought to be noticing is that the more church people obsess on this one issue, the less civilized they become, the less they care about much of anything else.

  • Uh oh…..they wouldn’t like me anyway. Dr. Who will protect me, once I can figure how to drive the
    Tardis. 🙂

  • 2 BAD THINGS TO REMEMBER ABOUT THIS MARTEL GUY, for even the LGBT community in France couldn’t care less about his gay/lesbian studies!

    (1) “Hostility [has] manifest[ed] itself around the development of gay and lesbian studies … [and] one is reminded of the sarcasms of Alain Finkielkraut and Frédéric Martel, when in June 1997, a conference on gay and lesbian culture was held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, organized by Didier Eribon. … [The thing is] to work on gay and lesbian culture requires a methodology of specific questions based on (among others) historiograhic study of subordinate classes or privacy issues, though it cannot be simplified to only these two subjects. It is arguable that Frédéric Martel’s book Le Rose et le noir (The Pink and the Black), on the history of homosexuals in France since 1968, could have been more rigorous had the author availed himself of some of the methodological instruments used in America, found in books such as those by Lilian Faderman, John D’Emilio, Esther Newton, and George Chauncey. … [He’s typical of] anti-communitarianists [therefore, who] prefer to shift the debate in a different direction, proposing that gay and lesbian studies are designed only for gays and lesbians, and that they present a risk that homosexuals will want to rewrite history filtered only through the lens of homosexuality. One hesitates even to respond to such absurd objections. Anti-communitarianists pretend to be surprised that gay and lesbian matters, for the most part, are brought up by gays and lesbians, as though the issues could be separated from the lifestyle. This shows a disquieting intellectual intolerance; gay and lesbian studies, like all minority studies, tackle norms and the notion of what is universal from their fringes.”

    (2) “Frédéric Martel … claimed Alain Finkielkraut … as [one of] his intellectual mentors”.

    Source: (1) Louis-Georges Tin, The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience, arsenal pulp press, 2008. (Louis-Georges Tin is both a scholar and an activist in France fighting against homophobia and racism.) (2) Camille Robcis, The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France, Cornell University Press, 2013.

  • What happened, though, to Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Silverman, Lawrence Krauss and Al Franken is “evidence continu[ing] to grow that indeed there is … God”!

  • Stop lying that it isn’t a sin and more of us will sit back until we get tired of watching people go to Hell

  • Or do the best for yourself – turn to Christ, renounce your sin, follow Christ in a relationship with Him, and end up in Heaven.
    God opens a window where there seems to be no door

  • Not exactly.

    Vigano stated there is a problem.

    There is.

    The book is an over-the-top fiction that there is an abuser behind every door.

    There is not.

    Like John Cornwell’s “Hitler’s Pope”, it spins actual facts into a narrative which is false.

  • Was I wrong to discount the fall of organized religion in the last days as predicted by those looney JWs? Is this the beginning of the end? Religion is being attacked from within, by society and governments worldwide. Religions are fighting amongst themselves.

    Will I be around when the cry is made: ‘Babylon the Great has fallen!’ (Rev 18)?

  • If you’ve followed history over the last 40 years you will see resistance is futile. This is about equal rights. This issue is affecting nearly every church. It is tearing some apart, weakening others.

  • I TOLD YOU SO: Even ElleGeeBeeTease are calling it FakeNews, this “Bombshell book alleges a Vatican gay subculture, hypocrisy”!

    “[Frédéric Martel’s] tone doesn’t help. ‘The world I am discovering, with its 50 shades of gay, is beyond comprehension,’ he writes. It will seem to some readers ‘a fairy tale.’ He challenges the conventional wisdom that Pope Francis, who has detractors all around him, is ‘among the wolves,’ clarifying, ‘It’s not quite true: he’s among the queens.’ Maybe it’s better in the original French, but this language is at once profoundly silly and deeply offensive. The sourcing of much of “In the Closet of the Vatican’ is vague, and other Vatican experts told me that the 80 percent figure is neither knowable nor credible. … ‘[His] not a scientifically based accusation — it’s an ideologically based one,’ said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter … Independent studies put the percentage of gay men among Catholic priests in the United States at 15 percent to 60 percent. In a telephone interview on Thursday, Martel stressed that the 80 percent isn’t his estimate but that of a former priest at the Vatican whom he quotes by name in the book. But he presents that quotation without sufficient skepticism and, in his own words, writes, ‘It’s a big majority.’ … [Instead] Martel … lavishes considerable energy on the suggestion that Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and other towering figures in the church are gay. … The cardinals most accepting of gays, he said, are those who are probably straight.”

    Source: Frank Bruni, “The Vatican’s Gay Overlords: A sensational new book mines the Catholic Church’s sexual secrets. Will right-wing homophobes exploit it?”, New York Times, February 15, 2019.

  • TRANSLATION: You can take Ashiesm outta JWs, but you can never take JW-ism outta Ashiests!

    Lab Sample: One Jim Johnson.

  • I just used the JWs interpretation. There is absolutely no way to interpret it or apply it. Or understand what the mark is. Some claim it should be 616 instead of 666. According to them I do since I am not one of them. Everyone but them (and only the true JWs) has the mark.

  • Umm, no, resistance generally isn’t futile on this one issue, whether the resistance takes place in the personal, political, pastoral, or church-ministry spheres. ANY amount of Christian salt and light, any amount of genuinely caring resistance, can make a potentially significant difference in people’s lives — or at least keep things from getting worse.

    It’s the lack of resistance, it’s the giving-up and bowing-down, it’s the decision to go sleep with Goliath instead of go fight against Goliath, that produces the horrific disaster-movies like Martel’s book and Methodism’s crisis.

  • The only ones going to heaven. Faithful anointed Christians over the millennia starting with the apostles and ending with Jehovah’s Witness. They get immortality and rule with Jesus. Non-anointed JWs and the ressurected ones who prove faithful get eternal life on an earthly paradise.

    I’d be happy to send you some literature!

  • Resistance to sin and heresy is never futile.

    It is what is expected of those who love God and His Word.

  • I primarily meant resistance in stopping it in society. Right now about 32 countries recognize same-sex marriages. But the Church draw members from society. Polls show that the newer generations are more accepting – your future members. How many churches have split? You have the right to fight and it may not be pointless to you, but it is failing.

  • Ha. No thanks. Just wondering.
    I think Calvinists talk a lot about the 144,000 too; although they are predetermined. I think….

  • ““There are many gay priests, bishops and cardinals in ministry today in the church,” Martin said. “But most of them are, like their straight counterparts, remaining faithful to a life of chastity and celibacy.”
    When one becomes a Christian, they are cleansed of their sin, the old has gone, the new has come. So, calling themselves an unrepentant sinner, while supposedly under the blood of Jesus, is incorrect. One is either a Christian, or a homosexual; not both

  • The younger generations may be more “accepting” except when Christ calls and they look to His word, they’ll change their mind.
    I was once a strong advocate for the immorality and then I read what Christ had to say about it. Changed my mind.

  • hehehehe….they’d be pleased to come to your house and talk with you. 🙂
    Did you ever see the Murphy Brown where someone was angry with her and sent them over for a visit? lol

  • That is probably the message a Roman officer gave a Christian just before they led him into the Coliseum.

    Amazingly all these centuries later the Christians are still here and the Romans are gone.

  • No surprise. “Do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” Roman Catholic leadership — obvious for decades now. And not only for same-sex behavior but also for monies used for lavish lifestyles instead of for alleviating poverty, hetero-sex (all of which are out-of-marriage sinful trysts), cover-ups of wayward priests’ crimes, etc.

    It is not much of a theology — rules, rites, guilt, etc — if those charged with teaching it and enforcing it do not adhere to it. If Catholic clerics are not concerned with Catholic rules of salvation/damnation, then a case is made to question the Catholic church as an institution.

  • No surprise. “National Catholic Reporter I-know-better-than-anyone-else” kvetching by an ex-Catholic in all but name questioning the Catholic Church as an “institution”.

  • Obviously in most countries it’ll snow in your Hell before they’ll adopt any of this. Right now it’s the Christian-majority countries and Israel.

  • Amazingly all these centuries later the Jews are still here and the Romans are gone. Amazingly some on the alt-Right are reviving the worship of Odin. Amazingly, Hinduism is still around. Amazingly animism is still here. Governments always fall, ideas (even bad ones) can carry on.

  • I like the use of capitals because I think it captures their deluded sense of self-importance and it appeals to my sense of irony.

  • OK, I understand your point so I’ll give you an UP arrow :o)

    (i use quotation marks for the same purpose)

  • Did you ever wonder why so Christianity regards so many actions as sin?

    Could it be that that’s a way of gaining some measure of control over others?

  • Here’s something about Catholicism I find especially interesting:

    a priest who is discovered to be sealing money from the church will be turned over to police.

    sexual abuse of a child is a FELONY. How many priest-abusers have been turned over to police?

    Doesn’t the NT say Christians are to obey civil authorities?


  • OK, so you believe in god w/o any actual evidence.

    What else do you believe in despite lack of physical evidence?

  • Perhaps you should consider participating in a forum where you are among equals–say, a forum for 8 year-olds? (And poorly educated ones at that.)

  • I believe we can celebrate the gifts of ministry in all God’s Children regardless of sexual orientation or gender
    and prosecute criminal pedophile Priests regardless of sexual orientation or gender.
    We must listen to survivors with Pastoral presence and seek justice on their behalf.
    Stereotyping does not help survivors.
    Let us make sure to celebrate LGBT people’s spiritual gifts and support their call to ministry
    and pray for a day when none of God’s children are abused or face discrimination.
    In the name of Jesus,