In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy
Translated by Shaun Whiteside
New York: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019
Don’t put make-up on your soul, because the Lord won’t recognize you. Let us ask for this grace, during this Lent: the coherence between formality and the reality, between who we are and how we want to appear.
— Pope Francis 
Those who are in authority rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain evils be incurred: thus Augustine says [De ordine 2.4]: “If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust.”
— St. Thomas 
This is one of the most infuriating books I’ve ever read, quite apart from the contents. If a Coleman Francis movie could be said to “dare you to watch it,”   this is one of those books that dares you to read it.
And you should, or at least try to. Martel addresses one of the great conundrums of our time: how is it that the Roman Catholic Church is the great synecdoche of “tradition” and “orthodoxy” and “conservatism,” a veritable bulwark of resistance to liberalism and “globohomo,” while at the same time being the world headquarters of pederasty?
Of course, the E. Michael Joneses and Nick Fuentes of the Dissident Right have a ready, convenient explanation: the homos took over during Vatican II! And of course, this is historical nonsense: the Church has been known for its randy priests (and nuns) back to the times of Luther and beyond.   Indeed, while some illiterates think “the Bible condemns sodomy,” the word — and sin — was actually invented in the 9th century by Peter Damien; among its interesting characteristics, it was “characteristic of the clergy.”  
The truth, as always, is far more complex — paradoxical, even — and far more interesting:
The omnipresence of homosexuals in the Vatican isn’t just a matter of a few black sheep,   or the “net that caught the bad fish’, as Josef Ratzinger put it. It isn’t a ‘lobby’ or a dissident movement; neither is it a sect of a Freemasonry inside the holy see: it’s a system. It isn’t a tiny minority; it’s a big majority.
Martel’s informants coalesce around the informed guestimate that “upwards of 80% of the clergy are homosexual, ‘all tendencies included.’” We’ll see what those “tendencies” encompass.
To his credit, rather than engage in comforting, self-satisfying historical fantasy, Martel sets out to document the current situation and the secret history of how it came about; he wants us to take him as some kind of cultural anthropologist, exploring and explaining a remote and seemingly bizarre tribe; this perhaps accounts for the Brobdingnagian dimensions of this field report. Martel conducted more than 1,500 interviews over four years, including no fewer than “41 cardinals, 52 bishops and Monsignori, 45 apostolic nuncios, secretaries of nunciatures or foreign ambassadors, 11 Swiss Guards, and over 200 Catholic priests and seminarians.” The result is an unwieldy 555 pages — without an index — and there are another 300 pages available online.
Martel as amateur anthropologist sets out as a kind of “participant/observer” of a very special kind; while he is no Catholic, not even “culturally” — he is very much a secularist, or, as the French village atheist or metropolitan sophisticate would proudly say, an exponent of laïcité  — he is openly, proudly — I would say flamboyantly, indeed irritatingly — gay, with all the stereotypical features you might imagine: his text is over-written, precious, catty,   and indeed addicted to that species of gossiping known as dishing.  
As luck would have it, the Vatican is filled with Martels-in-cassocks, and once Martel’s “gaydar” locks on a target, and the target is satisfied that he is indeed “of the parish” — the Vatican equivalent of “friend of Dorothy” — the floodgates are opened, as if this is just the opportunity they’ve been waiting decades for to unload their spleen.  
Periodically, he provides us with pretentiously pseudo-scientific “Rules of the Closet” that he has supposedly deduced from this evidence; ultimately thirteen or so, which, in a final “Fuck You” to the reader, are never referred back to, summarized, systematized, or even brought together in one place (remember, there’s no index, either).
Dispensing with the Great White Hunter pose, it would be more helpful to think of Martel as providing an abductive argument   to explain a series of puzzling phenomena:
The secret motivations that led Paul VI to confirm the prohibition on artificial contraception, the rejection of condoms and the strict obligation of celibacy on the priesthood; the war against “liberation theology”; . . . the decision to forbid condoms as a way of battling AIDS, even when the pandemic would lead to more than thirty-five million deaths; the VatiLeaks I and II affairs; the recurrent and often unfathomable misogyny of many cardinals and bishops; the resignation of Benedict XVI; the current rebellion against Pope Francis. . .
And what is the key?
Every time, homosexuality plays a central part that many people can only guess at, and the truth of which has never really been told.
Please, do tell:
The “culture of secrecy,” which was necessary to maintain silence about the huge presence of homosexuality inside the Church, has made it possible to hide sexual abuse, and for predators to benefit from this system of protection within the institution.
Without this key for understanding, the recent history of the Vatican and the Roman Church remains opaque. By failing to recognize the broadly homosexual dimension, we deprive ourselves of one of the keys to a greater understanding of most of the facts that have stained the history of the Vatican for decades.
More particularly (and the text is all about providing particulars), while theologues like Jones and ideologues like Fuentes like to think of, and present, the Church as a timeless institution passing on timeless moral laws, it is actually a human institution with a unique history.   Mandatory celibacy has made the Church an ideal destination for young men of confused or decidedly homophile inclinations.
Even more particularly, the leadership — Popes, cardinals, bishops — is elderly (the trio of cardinals Benedict chose to investigate the last financial scandal were all in their late 90s); the intellectual formation of these “impossibly old” antiques   is not merely pre-Stonewall but pre-War (World War Two, not One, to be fair). Faced with the challenges of birth control, abortion, gay liberation, and revelations of systematic clerical pederasty, their instinctive reaction has been to double-down, making the conservative positions on sexuality the only non-negotiable feature left of Catholicism.
So, in a bass-ackward way, the TradCaths are right, but as per usual, they’ve grabbed the wrong end of the shit stick:   the Church is full of homos, but they’ve been there for centuries, and these are the fossils promoting your “conservative family values,” while the handful of straight clergymen have been trying to bring the Church’s teaching on sex back to something approaching the reality of human sexuality.
Francis today is the object of a violent campaign, precisely because of his supposed liberalism on questions of sexual morality, by conservative cardinals who are . . . most of them, secretly homosexual. . . . Those conservatives, those traditionalists, those “dubias,”   are in many cases the famous “rigid people leading of double life” of whom Francis speaks so often.
The Argentinian has overturned the little games of connivance and the homosexual fraternity that developed clandestinely after Paul VI, and were amplified under John Paul II, before becoming ungovernable under Benedict XVI, leading to his downfall.
On the principle of “fool me once,” Francis has set himself the task of cleaning out the Vatican closet, both personnel and the twisted “conservative” theology (actually, the misogynistic fantasies of spiteful old queens) they have wrought. Opposing him is what we might call, in contemporary terms, the Resistance. When Francis suggested — on solid theological basis — that sexual sins were only some of many, and that the Church had spent far too much time on these to the exclusion of the other 6 deadly sins, the reeeeee-ing began. “He’s a heretic!” “He’s a fag!”   “He’s not my Pope!” Indeed, Francis Derangement Syndrome among hysterical conservative Catholics was something of a dress rehearsal for the Trump Derangement Syndrome manifested by the progressive Left.
Martel starts in media res; the first of four parts is devoted to Francis and the current situation. And almost immediately we are gifted with one of those “stranger-than-fiction” real-life figures that somehow summarize an entire epoch: the American Cardinal Raymond Burke.   Leader of the Resistance, recurrent target of Francis’ demotions and dressings-down, an ally of Steve Bannon in promoting “Traditionalism” . . .
. . . and drag queen . But since this paraphilia manifests itself in wearing elaborate archaic vestments, long since shunned by the rest of his colleagues, this is interpreted as “conservatism” and “traditionalism.” Perhaps a better term would be LARPing; he LARPs as a Borgia-era cardinal, including the “cappa magna” that Francis has officially discouraged:
Burke is well-known for wearing this garb from another era. The photographs of him wearing this big ceremonial altar-boy outfit are famous. He’s a big man; in his cappa magna he becomes a giant — he looks like a Viking bride! Performance. Happening. In his long robe (he could be wearing a curtain ), Burke shows himself in his full plumage. This billowing jacket is a cape of red moiré silk, with a hood buttoned by the neck and fastened at the front (the hands emerge from a slit) and involving a train which is said to vary according to the solemnity of the occasion. Burke’s train can reach a length of 12 metres. Is this ‘larger-than-life’ cardinal trying to enlarge himself at the same time as the pope is trying to shrink him?”
He could show up looking like Carol Channing in Hello Dolly, and traditionalists would say he’s “delivering another well-aimed rebuke to the modernizing Francis.” See how that works? Genius!
The discovery of Burke is worth the price of admission: a real-life Pope Hadrian VII :
How often we see him surrounded by young seminarians kissing his hand — also magnificent in that our Hadrian   seems to follow the cult of Greek beauty, which, as we know, was always more male than female. Winning both the admiration and laughter of Rome, Burke always appears surrounded by obsequious chaperones , Antinous-like figures kneeling in front of him or page boys carrying the long red train of his cappa magna, as choirboys might for a bride.
. . . and whose portrait, dominating his ornate private apartments, seems to have been painted by Frederick Rolfe  himself:
The 70-year-old cardinal [is] sitting on an asparagus-green throne twice as large as he is, surrounded by silvery drapery. He wears a fluorescent yellow mitre in the shape of a tall Tower of Pisa, and long turquoise gloves that look like iron hands; his mozzetta is cabbage-green, embroidered with yellow, lined with a leek-green hood revealing a bow of crimson and pomegranate lace.
All this might possibly be overlooked as, if not a praiseworthy invocation of “Tradition,” merely just a somewhat embarrassing personal foible — even his nickname among the curia: “The Wicked Witch of the Midwest,” or his preference to be spoken of in the feminine: “Votre Éminence peut être fière”; “Votre Éminence est grande”; “Votre Éminence est trop bonne” (“Your Eminence can be proud”; “Your Eminence is great”; “Your Eminence is too kind”) — all, perhaps, forgivable, if it were not for the state of Burke’s American church:
Most of the Catholic hierarchy in his country — the cardinals, the bishops — are homosexual: the famous and powerful cardinal and Archbishop of New York, Francis Spellman, was a “sexually voracious homosexual,” if we are to believe his biographers. . . .   Similarly, Cardinal Wakefield Baum of Washington, recently deceased, lived for many years with his personal assistant — a classic of the genre. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, was also a practicing homosexual: he was well-known for his “sleeping arrangements” with seminarians and young priests whom he called his “nephews” (finally accused of sexual abuse, he was forbidden to hold public office by the pope in 2018). Archbishop Rembert Weakland was “outed” by a former boyfriend (he has since described his journey as a homophile in his memoirs). One American cardinal has been banned from the Vatican [!] and sent back to the United States for his improper conduct with a Swiss Guard. Another American cardinal, the bishop of a large city in the United States, “has lived for years with his boyfriend, a former priest,” while an archbishop of another city, a devotee of the Latin mass and a man much given to cruising, “lives surrounded by a flock of young seminarians,” a fact confirmed to me by Robert Carl Mickens, an American Vaticanologist familiar with the gay lifestyle of the senior Catholic hierarchy in the United States. The Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, John Clayton Nienstedt, is also a homophile, and was investigated by his Archdiocese in connection with allegations that he had inappropriate sexual contact with adult men (allegations he categorically denies). He subsequently resigned when criminal charges were brought against the Archdiocese concerning its handling of allegations of inappropriate behavior by a priest who was later convicted of molesting two boys; another resignation that was accepted by Pope Francis.
And so on. Martell goes on to note with alarm that “an objective alliance has formed between the American ultra-right and the ultra-right of the Vatican,” in particular between the drag queen traditionalist Cardinal and the Catholic capital-T Traditionalist Steve Bannon: “the understanding between the two men was instant .”  
Alas, no sooner did the book come out than Bannon and Burke were no longer BFF’s :
Cardinal Raymond Burke has severed ties with his once-ally, former White House adviser Steve Bannon, and his institute designed to train future populist leaders. The apparent cause of discontent was Mr. Bannon’s desire to make a film about the Vatican’s homosexual subculture, according to Inside the Vatican.
The pair had been close allies, meeting in person in recent years and collaborating over the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, Bannon’s “gladiator school “ which was meant to instill alt-right values in its students, and where Cardinal Burke had been honorary chairman.
Burke released a statement Tuesday in which he emphatically severed relations Bannon and the Institute. The final straw seems to have been a report on conservative LifeSiteNews in which Bannon hinted, among other things, that he wanted to make a film of Frederic Martel’s book, “In the Closet of the Vatican.”
The idea of converting the book into a film was enough for Burke to distance himself considerably from Bannon. “I have never worked with Mr. Bannon in his organisation and am not presently doing so,” explained the 70-year-old.
Bannon also said, in the LifeSiteNews article which has been subsequently taken down, that he believed priests should be able to marry. Burke was clear in his statement: “I disagree completely with a number of Mr. Bannon’s statements regarding the doctrine and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church,” Burke explained, as he also stood back from Bannon’s alt-right Institute, that in recent years the project had become increasingly identified with “the political programme of Mr. Bannon” and had moved away from its “original purpose.”
Bannon’s school, set up in the millennium-old monastery in Trisulti, near Frosinone, was intended to teach students how to defend the “Judaeo-Christian West.” Bannon, 65, who is a long-time admirer of Italian politics, designed most of the curriculum for the “sovereignty school.”
Burke and Bannon originally bonded over their conservative opposition to Pope Francis. While Bannon’s criticisms concerned the Pope’s stance on migration, Burke opposed Papa Franceso on doctrinal grounds, including the status of divorced and remarried Catholics. Pope Francis removed Burke as head of the Vatican’s Supreme Court in 2014 and he has been repeatedly sidelined since.
And so another alt-right conglomerate bites the dust. But wait: there’s more !
“We stood by the monastery, the community, and Italy during this pandemic when it would have been easy to walk away,” Bannon said in a statement. But while they still enjoy support from Italian right-wing politicians such as former interior minister Matteo Salvini, Bannon and Harnwell have lost key supporters within the Church.
Last year, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who for years strongly backed Bannon and was an honorary president of the institute, yanked his support after Bannon said he wanted to make a film from a book alleging widespread homosexuality in Vatican.
Burke’s withdrawal was a major setback for Bannon because the cardinal, one of Pope Francis’ fiercest critics, is a point of reference for Catholic conservatives worldwide.
Indeed, Bannon appears to support  Francis’ tactic of switching to a few non-sexual issues that may be more important to the general public (and the Dissident Right):
Martel told BuzzFeed News that Bannon invited him to lunch in Paris on May 19 to discuss his book. During the lunch, Martel said, it was suggested that Bannon’s allies in Rome were probably gay, and Bannon agreed that was likely true. Martel said Bannon endorsed allowing priests to marry and other changes to the church’s sexual doctrine so that the church can focus on “the important issues: China, Islam, immigration and so on.”
Speaking of immigration and Islam; the survey of the contemporary scene ends with a chapter on the Roman street boys who provide services for Vatican officials. It’s not really necessary, but journalists seem compelled to use their expense accounts to spend time among the “real people” of the streets, with, in this case, an added opportunity to express solidarity with those “oppressed” immigrants. For indeed, one thing we do learn is that, just as the most homophobic clergy are the most sexually active, the conservative clergy that most vociferously oppose Francis’ policies on immigration are, by night, delighted to have a smorgasbord of immigrants to prey on.
In fact, the clergy prefer either Moslems (illegal immigrants) or what they charmingly call “orientals,” i.e., Orthodox Romanians (legal immigrants from the EU). The boys themselves “don’t lumber themselves with morality or guilt”:
If an imam was gay, the Muslims would have been shocked; if an orthodox pope [sic; he means a patriarch] was homosexual the Romanians would have thought it was strange; but it strikes them as “normal” for Catholic priests to indulge in prostitution.
By this time, the reader will share that perception. We also learn that no less than two restaurants in Rome serve as memorials to Pasolini — one where he met up with his soon-to-be killer, the other where they had dinner that evening; Italians do seem to enjoy dining places associated with famous murders .
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  Mystery Science Theater, Episode 619, “Red Zone Cuba.”
  A bird’s eye view from the book under review:
As early as the Middle Ages, Popes John XII and Benedict IX committed the “abominable sin,” and everyone in the Vatican knows the name of the boyfriend of Pope Adrian IV (the famous John of Salisbury), and of the lovers of Pope Boniface VIII. The marvelously scandalous life of Pope Paul II is equally famous: he is said to have died of a heart attack in the arms of a page [As we’ll see, a modern-day cardinal will do the same]. As for Pope Sixtus IV, he appointed several of his lovers cardinal, including his nephew Raphael, who was made cardinal at the age of 17 (the expression “cardinal-nephew” has been passed down to posterity). Julius II and Leo X, both patrons of Michelangelo, and Julius III, are also generally presented as bisexual popes. Sometimes, as Oscar Wilde observed, some popes were called Innocent by antiphrasis!
  Hence the name, coined on the model of simony, the purchase of holy orders. Damien was an early reformer, and this new sin gave him — he thought — a powerful weapon to wield against his conservative opponents; since then, silencing opponents, from the Third Reich to the Army/McCarthy hearings, has been its main use. Alas, his plans went awry: the Pope accepted his treatise, and then burned it. See Mark D. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (University of Chicago Press, 1997). The original French title of Martel’s book is Sodoma: Enquete au coeur du Vatican.
  Dat be raszist!
  He tut-tuts the luxury of several cardinal residences, while secretly enjoying it all, then when entering a modest, indeed poverty-stricken, apartment sneers “The furniture is horrible, as it often is in the Vatican.”
  Defined  as “a conversational style including retorts, vicious putdowns, and/or malicious gossip, and showing disrespect, associated with the entertainment industry and also called ‘chit chat.’” Martel says that “they make me think of the regulars at those shady homophilic clubs in the 1950s who cruelly mocked everyone, worldly and poisonous. . . . The ‘closet’ is the place of the most incredible cruelty. And the Vatican is one huge ‘closet.’” For more, if you must, see my “Sour Cream: The Decline of Wit into Camp in Michael Nelson’s A Room in Chelsea Square ,” reprinted in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others: Traditionalist Meditations on Literature, Art, & Culture ; ed. Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014).
  Compare: “Members of the gay community, far from being insulted by the book’s use of the word ‘fag,’ were thrilled to find themselves, at long last, unleashed with such gusto onto an international stage. . . . The . . . message was gay-positive and validating. So what if we’re a tad bitchy? We are everywhere.” Simon Doonan, “Valley of the Dolls at 50” in Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (Grove Press, 2016).
  I am reminded of, and would refer the reader to, the central chapters of Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, where this dialectic is brought out, ironically, in the conversations of Fr. Jacobus, Benedictine monk but also a profoundly learned historian, and Joseph Knecht, the naïve, equally celibate scholar who will soon take the leadership of what he thinks is a timeless and purely intellectual institution.
  “Impossibly old” was a writer’s description of The Simpson’s Mr. Burns, although I cannot locate it at the present moment. If Martel were not French, he might have been able to make a number of amusing parallels between Mr. Burns and the inhabitants of the Vatican; apart from being absurdly old, they are surrounded by fawning, Smithers-like acolytes, and technologically backward: “few cardinals use email in 2019; many still prefer to use the mail, and some the fax. Sometimes their assistants print out the emails they receive for them; they reply by hand on paper; scanned and mailed instantly to their addressees!” One cardinal’s Smithers tells Martel that “he doesn’t read his emails, he doesn’t know how to use the internet and he has no mobile phone;” she suggests sending him a fax. Younger, more active cardinals do use mobile phones, the Grindr app being key to setting up assignations and sex parties, and sometimes accidentally outing a “member of the parish” sitting few feet away. In general, I imagine intimate gatherings of these homophile cardinals to resemble the various gatherings of old Mafia “fossils” in Scorsese’s Casino.
  An all-too-frequent occurrence during today’s toilet paper shortages.
  Four cardinals expressing written doubts about Francis’ teachings on sexual morality in 2016; we will soon meet their leader, Cardinal Burke. In typical fashion, Martel uses this word on page xiv and does not define it until p. 113; again, no index, so unless you have a kindle, or know Latin, you are out of luck. He partially redeems himself with this passage: “The ‘dubia’ have a style of their own: apparent humility and extravagant vanity; obsequious explosions of laughter from their handsome young companions and book burnings; sacristy hangers-on, liturgy queens, well-combed choirboys with their straight partings from the Jesuit schools and the Inquisition; a tortuous and, indeed, tortured language and medieval positions on sexual morality. And on top of that, what a lack of enthusiasm for the fair sex! Such misogyny! Such divine gaiety, such virile rigidity — or vice versa. ‘The Lady doth protest too much, methinks.’” Sounds like an IRL meetup of the manosphere!
  What Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano — whose August 2018 “Tentimonianza” was what the Watergate coverup calls a “limited hangout,” in which the far-right Vigano, disappointed to not be named a cardinal, attempts to name names in order to put the blame on Francis — calls the “corrento filoomosessuale” (the “pro-homosexual trend”) in the Vatican. The vengeful little queen’s plan backfired when he wildly included allies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, thus cutting himself off from the conservatives themselves (where, as we will see, the homosexuals predominantly lurk). As always, They accuse You of what They are doing.
  Not to be confused with the late American actor Raymond Burr, although looking at them you might be forgiven if you did.
  Amusingly, Martel’s reference is to Emperor Hadrian, not Rolfe’s fictional Pope Hadrian VII. “‘Your Holiness would perhaps prefer to be called Leo, or Pius, or Gregory, as is the modern manner?’” the Cardinal-Dean inquired with imperious suavity. ‘The previous English pontiff was Hadrian the Fourth. The present English pontiff is Hadrian the Seventh. It pleases us; and so, by Our own impulse, We command.’” Ironically, John Paul II would be the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years, since the Dutchman Hadrian VI (1522-1523).
  See Benjamin Teitelbaum, War for Eternity: Inside Bannon’s Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers (New York: HarperCollins, 2020).