by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
As everybody in the world now knows, Pope Francis recently asked out loud, 'If a person is Gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?'
But what has not been so well-documented is the specific context of the Pope's remarks. The question to the Pope in his impromptu press conference on the plane back to Rome was about the so-called 'Gay lobby,' which allegedly drove Francis's predecessor, Benedict XVI, to resign.
'You see a lot written about the Gay lobby [in the Vatican],' Francis replied. 'I still have not yet seen anyone in the Vatican with an identity card saying they are Gay.'
Francis then elaborated on the theme of Gay clergy - not Gay people in general - and addressed the scandal surrounding Monsignor Battista Ricca, who was accused of living openly with his male lover when he was a Vatican diplomat in Uruguay. The charges against Ricca concerned a sin, the Pope explained, not a crime like molesting children, and therefore the church must not only 'forgive, but forget ...'
'The catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well,' the Pope continued. 'It says [Gays] should not be marginalized because of this, but that they must be integrated into society.'
On the other hand, the Pope condemned the idea of a 'Gay lobby' within the Vatican.
'The problem is not having this orientation,' he said. 'We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.'
A 'PRE-MODERN' CULTURE
So who and what is this notorious 'Gay lobby'?
The openly Gay English theologian James Alison estimates that more than 40% of the Catholic clergy today are Gay, but that very few are comfortable or honest about it. Other experienced observers agree with his estimate, though few inside the church will speak on the record.
'The notion of a Gay lobby is complicated,' Alison told the British newspaper The Guardian. 'There are so many uses of the term.'
'Rome is one of the last places on earth where 'don't ask, don't tell' actually means that,' Alison explained. 'It is a traditional, monosexual culture, in the same way that the British army would have been in 1890. Women, and indeed sex, are simply irrelevant. It didn't matter what you did, so long as you weren't caught and caused no scandal.
'It's a remarkable cultural survival of a pre-modern world. But the people inhabiting it are modern people. So you get cognitive dissonance. There are various ways of surviving. You can live a double life, with all the pain that will lead to. You can choose to shut down your emotional life and become career-minded.
'It's a honeycomb of closets,' he continued. 'Not everyone knows everybody else. Everybody knows somebody who knows someone else. So there is a ... game of blackmail going on.
'The people with the strongest motivation to keep the current system are those people who - maybe for the best of motives - opted to 'sacrifice' that part of themselves [sexual orientation] for what they thought was the glory of God. They found themselves constantly having to re-enact that sacrifice for other people, as though the annihilation of who one is was actually what our Lord meant. Their sacrifice has been not only in vain, but has been a monumental act of self-destruction. This destruction is independent of whether the person has or has not got partners.'
DEFINING THE TERM
Veteran Vatican correspondent John L. Allen of the National Catholic Reporter sketched a very similar scenario.
The Italian term lobby gay has a different nuance than the English phrase, Allen explains. 'When you say 'Gay lobby' to the typical English-speaker, what they're going to think of is an interest group advancing an agenda.
'That really is not what Italians mean by the term lobby gay.' What they mean is this clandestine network of people in the Vatican who have skeletons in their closets who are looking out for one another, and as far as Italians are concerned those skeletons don't even have anything to do with sex, in some cases.
'If the question is 'Are there Gays in the Vatican?' yes, of course there are. But if the question is 'Is there some kind of organized network of Gays in the Vatican who are protecting one other and advancing their own interests?' all I can tell you is that in 15 years of covering the place I've never seen any particular evidence of that.'
German theologian David Berger has a different perspective. Berger was denounced and sacked from his teaching job when he came out in 2010 and now edits a Gay magazine.
'In Rome I experienced that these [Gay] networks exist but they're not about power-grabbing,' he said. 'Nepotism exists in the Vatican anyway, based on friendships. The main aim of these circles is simply to gain access to sex in an uncomplicated way. There is also a lot of paid sex but much unpaid sex as well. There's no Gay conspiracy in the Vatican.'
Because of the secretive nature of these networks, clergy who live under their protection are often exposed to scandal-mongering by rival churchmen. For example, a letter accusing a number of prominent German and Austrian clergymen, inside and outside the Vatican, of participating in Gay networks was sent anonymously to all German-speaking bishops last year.
Some of the clerics named in the letter were accused of complicity in the maneuverings around the so-called VatiLeaks scandal last year, when Pope Benedict's butler passed on detailed secret information to journalists.
It is also likely that this letter was included in a dossier presented to Pope Benedict in February by three cardinals charged with investigating the VatiLeaks affair, and thus it formed part of the factual basis for allegations of a 'Gay lobby' in the Vatican.
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