Unnecessary words and the Vatican’s ‘gay lobby’

YouTube Preview ImageYesterday a reader tweeted that The Guardian was clearly trying to insinuate that Pope Benedict XVI is compromised in some way, resigning in disgrace. The headline:

Papal resignation linked to inquiry into ‘Vatican gay officials’, says paper 

Pope’s staff decline to confirm or deny La Repubblica claims linking ‘Vatileaks’ affair and discovery of ‘blackmailed gay clergy’

Sounds deliciously scandalous! The long and the short of it is that some claim there’s a shadowy “gay lobby” in the Vatican, blackmail was involved and such dark forces may have factored into Benedict XVI’s decision to resign. David Gibson over at Religion News Service ruins the fun by saying there’s not much to the report:

I’m one of those who would say this is pretty massively overplayed. For one thing, Benedict’s resignation was most certainly the result of numerous factors, mainly revolving around the internal problems of the Vatican, of which sexual shenanigans were likely one — but hardly the only one, or even the principal one. His advancing age was the element that pushed it all to the brink.

The other thing is that Benedict would receive the Captain Louis Renault Award (see below) if he were to declare himself “shocked” that gay men inhabit the priesthood and hierarchy, and of course the Vatican itself.

So that’s where I got the art for this post! As for criticizing The Guardian, I’m not sure it was doing much more than just reporting on some salacious and unsubstantiated gossip in La Repubblica. But the ultimate paragraph in The Guardian piece did make me laugh:

The Vatican does not condemn homosexuals. But it teaches that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered”. Pope Benedict has barred sexually active gay men from studying for the priesthood.

Anyone want to spot the unnecessary word there? Who wants to tell the Guardian about the celibacy requirement for priests? They’re going to be s.h.o.c.k.e.d. to find out, I bet.

Back to La Repubblica report, you simply must read John Allen’s analysis of it in the National Catholic Reporter (but, then again, you must read nearly everything Allen writes). He says there may be something to it. In so doing, he also explains some interesting media tips:

First of all, the paper that carried the story, La Repubblica, is not a scandal sheet. It’s the largest circulation daily in the country, with a center-left editorial stance. It’s sometimes critical of the church, but it’s not the National Enquirer.

What makes the piece slightly hard to evaluate is that it was written by a journalist named Concita De Gregorio, who’s not among La Repubblica’s usual stable of Vatican writers. (Sometimes Italian papers will let somebody else author stories likely to ruffle feathers in the Vatican so their regular beat reporters don’t have to face the fallout.)

He goes on to say that Italians have never seen a conspiracy theory they’re not prepared to believe. However … and here’s where it gets interesting … Allen says he’s not sure if the cardinals tasked with investigating the Vatican leaks looked into Vatican networks based on sexual preference but that “it would be a little surprising if they hadn’t.” Allen notes that in recent years there have been two Vatican sex scandals involving high-ranking gay clergy:

In that context, it would seem odd if the cardinals didn’t at least consider the possibility that somebody with a big secret to hide might be vulnerable to pressure to leak documents or spill the beans in other ways.

It also doesn’t stretch credulity to believe there are still people in the system leading a double life, not just in terms of their sexual preference and activities, but possibly in other ways as well — in terms of their financial interests, for example. Whether they form self-conscious cabals is open to question, but they may well naturally identify with each other, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that trying to chart such networks was part of what the three cardinals tried to do.

Among many cardinals, it’s become a fixed point of faith that the Vatican is long overdue for a serious housecleaning, and certainly the furor unleashed by the La Repubblica piece is likely to strengthen that conviction.

Allen adds that Benedict might authorize the sharing of the cardinals’ report. But he thinks it’s a stretch to connect all this too much to the pope’s resignation. Instead, he suggests taking him at his word that he’s old and tired. Still, the gay scandals to play a part in the general Vatican disarray, he says. All very interesting. As far as how the media should cover these rumors, I think that they should be handled with plenty of reaction from informed observers. Scandalous gossip is fun, but handling it responsibly is never a bad idea.

  • Matt
    Pope Benedict has barred sexually active gay men from studying for the priesthood.

    Anyone want to spot the unnecessary word there? Who wants to tell the Guardian about the celibacy requirement for priests?

    Sure, the word “gay” is unnecessary in one sense, because all sexually active men are barred from the Catholic priesthood. However, I think the word does serve a useful purpose in emphasizing that the primary issue is not one’s sexual orientation but one’s sexual activity.

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

      I thought “but” was unneeded as well.

      The Vatican does not condemn homosexuals. But it teaches that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered”.

      Just state the two facts. Don’t imply a contradiction between them when Catholicism obviously does not see one.

      • dalea

        These are not ‘facts’, they are ‘opinions’ and should be labled as such. A better rendition would be: The Vatican does not condemn homosexuals, though gay people would not agree with that characterization nor with the offensive term ‘homosexuals’. But it teaches that gay sex is ‘intrinsically disordered’ according to its internal terminology which gay people dispute.’ This gives both sides an opportunity to state its case., which Mollie’s subsequent thread insists is very important for journalism.

        • str

          If you really want to distinguish between facts and opinion, why not start with terms:
          -that the neutral term “homosexual” is offensive is an opinion, not a fact.
          -if you want to report what “it teaches” then you must use the terminology employed by that “it”, i.e. homosexual relations.
          What’s really offensive (even if millions of English speakers have been led in to use these terms) is the term “gay” in reference to homosexuality as if hetereosexuality was not a joyful but a “sad” matter. That’s a terminology that should be disputed.
          Your rendition is not a better one nor one that lets both sides state its case. “The Vatican” gets two statements in, only to have them negated by the self-described “gay people” without stating any reasons. I’m not sure which side is better off but it is certainly not balanced.

      • mollie

        Randy, you are exactly correct. The use of the word “but” is an expression opinion — subtle but quite powerful.

  • Martha

    Am I shocked, shocked to hear that there may be financial irregularity in an institution based in Italy? Am I shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear that there may be cosy ties between certain insiders and certain undesirable elements? Am I shocked to the point of needing the smelling salts, quick! at news that clergy are breaking their vows?

    Has “The Guardian” not read any history of the Church in the past two millennia?

    What this goes to show is that the world cannot resist trying to stick political labels on the Church. Since it is inconceivable that a politician or head of state would voluntarily give up power unless they were resigning before a scandal goes public which would remove they by force, then this must be the ‘real’ reason Pope Benedict is renouncing the Petrine ministry. Admittedly, the usual secrecy of the Vatican in such matters doesn’t help – for example, it’s only now that we learned about the pope’s pacemaker, even though he had it implanted when he was still a cardinal. That kind of keeping things under wraps, even when it would be better to make them public, naturally leads to all kinds of scepticism about motive and gives impetus to conspiracy theory.

    I have no doubt the next occupant of the Chair of Peter (which is today’s feastday, by the bye) will have a lot of house-cleaning to do. But again, this is nothing new. And even if only half of what is rumoured in that article turns out to be true, I won’t be greatly surprised by it either.

  • Julia

    Word from a gay friend who had been in the seminary: since “celibacy” actually refers to not being allowed to marry, many gay priests don’t think their activities are forbidden. At least they convince themselves of this b/c the celibacy rule started when married priests were passing on church property to their progeny. Or so the story goes.
    Here are some articles in La Stampa on this subjec (sometimes not addressed at the top of the article):
    http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/conclave-conclave-conclave-22562/
    http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/vaticano-vatileaks-herranz-22549/
    http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/conclave-lefebvriani-lefebvrians-lefebvrianos-22538/

    My guess: All this publicity will influence the Cardinals to turn in the direction of electing a tough manager to straighten out this mess and other un–professional and un-business-like situations.

    • Patrick

      “many gay priests don’t think their activities are forbidden.”

      The number of ‘out and proud’ Catholic priests in the wild would seem to discredit their opinion, though I will TOTALLY believe anybody who says that Catholic seminaries are stocked with gay men hiding in plain sight.

  • Deacon Michael D. Harmon

    I can’t say what’s going on in R.C. seminaries, but I do know the above report is inaccurate. The Vatican has not just barred “sexually active gay men” from the priesthood, it has barred men whose “principal sexual orientation” is toward their own sex. It will permit men in who have have had a brief attraction to a man, or a one-off encounter, but if you are homosexually oriented, the rule (again, I know nothing about the practice) goes well beyond what was stated.

    • mollie

      This was actually a major point I wanted to address. I’m glad someone picked up on it.

  • Madame Chantal

    Mollie, I urge you and your colleagues to read (if you haven’t already) Robert Moynihan’s Moynihan Letters, #18 and #19. Moynihan is based in Rome, and is the founder and editor of Inside the Vatican magazine. http://moynihanreport.itvworking.com/from-the-desk-of/letter-18-blackmail
    and
    http://moynihanreport.itvworking.com/from-the-desk-of/letter-19-stop
    Among other things, Moynihan comments on what he refers to as the genealogy of the article in La Reppublica.

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