Are gay blinkers distorting the New York Times on Vatican?

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The New York Times is shocked, shocked to hear Pope Francis say there is a gay lobby at the Vatican.

The suggestion that a gay mafia exists within the Curia has been a major news item in Italy and has generated stories round the world. The reactions have been diverse — and have reinforced the stereotypes of the major news outlets.

The New York Times‘ report is thorough, earnest and a bit dry, but misses the real story. Some of the Italian newspapers are having fits of joy in reporting on shadowy cabals of gay monsignori  cavorting in the Vatican — I am waiting for Freemasons to enter the story any day now. However the Italian press, along with the religion press, appreciate this story is not about homosexuality but doctrine, discipline, and divided loyalties within the Vatican.

For those not in the know — the story so far:

In a June 6 meeting with members of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Pope Francis was purported to have said in a discussion of reforming the church’s administration: “In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people. But there also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true. … The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there … We need to see what we can do.”

Why “purported”? Because the remarks were recorded in a summary of the meeting posted on a Chilean Web site, Reflection and Liberation, and later translated into English by the blog Rorate Caeli. The Milan newspaper Il Giornale reported that after Rorate Caeli released the transcript, Vatican reporters John Thavis and Marco Tosatti reported the news as did AFP and the Madrid newspaper El Mundo — and the world followed.

The Times begins its report by stating the suggestion there is a gay lobby is not shocking. What is shocking is that the pope would admit it.

For years, perhaps even centuries, it has been an open secret in Rome: That some prelates in the Vatican hierarchy are gay. But the whispers were amplified this week when Pope Francis himself, in a private audience, appears to have acknowledged what he called a “gay lobby” operating inside the Vatican, vying for power and influence.

The Times news account lays out the story in detail, offering context and diverse opinion as to the importance of the remarks. Yet for all its thoroughness the Times misses the bigger picture of clergy cliques and divided loyalties.

But never fear — the op-ed pages of the Times compounds its misinterpretation of the facts as Frank Bruni savages the church for not being gay enough.

What was clearer was his acknowledgment — rare for a pope, and thus remarkable — of the church’s worst-kept secret: a priesthood populous with gay men, even at the zenith. And that underscored anew the mystery and madness of the church’s attitude about homosexuality. If homosexuality is no bar to serving as one of God’s emissaries and interpreters, if it’s no obstacle to being promoted to the upper rungs of the church’s hierarchy, how can it be so wrong? It doesn’t add up. There’s an error in the holy arithmetic.

It also offers this snippet of information:

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit and an editor at large at the Catholic magazine America, told me that he’s seen thoughtful though not scientifically rigorous estimates that anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of Catholic priests are gay. His own best guess is 30 percent. That’s thousands and thousands of gay priests, some of whom must indeed be in the “deep-seated” end of the tendency pool. Martin believes that the vast majority of gay priests aren’t sexually active. But some are, and Rome is certainly one of the many theaters where the conflict between the church’s ethereal ideals and the real world play out.


While the Italian press is as excited about this news as Frank Bruni, it has focused more on “lobby” than on “gay” in their “gay lobby” stories. By this I mean the revelation of gay or homophile clergy is not the focus of the stories. Articles in La Repubblica and Il Giornale — translated in part by the Rorarte Caeli website — place homosexuality in the context of a challenge to the magisterium of the Church, divided loyalties within the clergy to their ecclesiastical superiors over against their patrons, and the ongoing reform of the Curia.

La Repubblica reports:

Gian Franco Svidercoschi, former vice-director of [Holy See daily] L’Osservatore Romano, knows how to read behind what was left unsaid by the Vatican. He explains: “The embarrassed silence of the Curia shows that the Pope’s words are true. This lobby which is talked about evidently has existed for a while, though I believe it to be composed by mid-level characters of the Roman Curia itself.

While Il Giornale writes:

But the problem of the homosexual lobby in the sacred palaces could be just the tip of the iceberg: there are those who are convinced that the great challenge of the new Pope is to tackle the problem. One of those is Fr. Dariusz Oko, theology progessor at the Pontifical University John Paul II, in Krakow, who in December had publicly denounced the gay lobby in the Vatican, and who reaffirms it today: “The Holy Father has confirmed that which everyone had known for many years,” he explains, “I think that the wall of omertà that has existed for a long time is destroyed.

Il Giornale ties Francis’ comments to reform instituted by Pope Benedict XVI.

“The Holy Father must combat this heresy that has spread throughout the Church.”. And the root of the problem, Fr. Oko confirms, is to be found in the places of formation: “Who, in Italy, is interested in the current situation of the seminaries?”,[Oko] asks. “And there is where the future of the Church is decided! The only way forward is to continue the revolution of Ratzinger, who wished to ‘free’ the seminaries from gay educators and homosexual seminarians.”

I believe the National Catholic Register has the best handle on this story. In a news analysis piece entitled “A Vatican ‘Gay Lobby’? This Is Not the Focus of the Question”, Andrea Gagliarducci writes:

Under Benedict XVI’s pontificate, actions against priestly lobbies and careerism were carried out. One reform that had the potential to correct these problems was Benedict XVI’s decision to limit access to seminaries in “The Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocation With Regard to Persons With Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.” Issued in November 2005, it was one of Benedict’s first acts of governance as pope. The instruction denies access to seminaries to anyone who has in any way, even superficially, supported a “gay culture” or a gender culture. According to one source who works in a Vatican congregation and asked for anonymity, the instruction was intended to avoid even the opportunity for a “gay lobby.”

The problem for the Times is that the “gay lobby” story runs contrary to the narrative it ha followed since election of Pope Francis. The Times and other outlets have sought to play off the popes against each other, with Francis being the anti-Benedict. Yes they have very different styles but the “gay lobby” story shows Francis’ determination to complete the work begun by Benedict. The story here is continuity not change.

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  • Matt

    Just as true, but somehow not worth saying: “the vast majority of heterosexual priests are not sexually active; but some are.”

    • m11_9

      The male sex drive makes it very difficult to buy the notion that any man is celibate, regardless of orientation.

      The odds are slim to none in my mind, no matter what oath he may make. Pull my other leg.

      • Matt

        One of the main points of Christianity is that it is possible (through the enabling power of God) to not be mastered by fleshly desire. Another, of course, is that there is forgiveness when we fail.

        There is a place for cynicism, but to dismiss the very idea of purity with nary a thought is just sad.

      • boinkie

        Sociologist Andrew Greeley would disagree, but he has the handicap of basing his opinions on actual sociological data.

      • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

        The term you are looking for is either “chaste” or “sexually continent,” not “celibate.” Celibate means “unmarried,” and the last I looked, there are millions of unmarried men around the world. And I would suggest you expand your social circle — I know many men, both married and unmarried, who are able to control their sex drives.

        • Matt

          Actually, m11_9 correctly defined “celibate” as “abstaining from sexual activity,” while you correctly define “chaste” as “sexually continent.” A married person is chaste if s/he engages in sexual activity only with his/her spouse. An unmarried person is chaste if s/he is celibate. But it is certainly not true that all unmarried persons are either chaste or celibate!

          • Thinkling

            This is one of those language ambiguities…the relevant context here when examining the religion angle(s) is theological, and celibacy as a theological concept most definitely means “not married”, with abstinence being a rough synonym of continence. The mess comes from these words having run of the mill meanings which differ from the technical rigorous ones.

            So the typical usage, while understandable, is a sign of the lack of familiarity with the rigorous concepts, resulting in an obfuscated discussion. But then who ever accued the press of not getting religion?

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    And naturally, this makes all the headlines, but the other statements attributed to him about “Pelagianism” and “Gnosticism”, the way money is handled, and the ongoing reform of all the curial institutions, these are ignored:

    “I’ll share two worries of mine. One is a pelagian current that’s in the church
    at this time. There are certain restorationist groups. I know them as I took to receiving them in Buenos Aires. And you feel like you’ve gone back 60 years! Before the Council…you feel like it’s 1940 again… The second [worry] is over a gnostic current. These pantheisms… they’re both currents of elites, but this one is of a more formed elite. I knew of one superior general who encouraged the sisters of her congregation to not prayer in the morning, but to give themselves a spiritual bath in the cosmos, such things….

    The Gospel is not the ancien regime, nor is it this pantheism. If you look to the outskirts; the indigent… the drug addicts! The trade [trafficking] of persons… That’s the Gospel. The poor are the Gospel….”
    Or even that a German management consultant is being brought in to advise on the reform, which made me laugh, because it’s such a stereotype: to increase efficiency, get a German!

    • Richard Mounts

      Martha, Martha,

      I think you’re being cheeky ;-) Do you really expect most MSM journalists to even know what Pelagianism or Gnosticism is? And really, the chance to once again poke at the Catholic Church with the stick of hatred is just too easy to pass up. Besides, “Pelagianism” in a headline can’t compete with “Gay” for eyeballs. Follow the money.

  • FW Ken

    I will note, briefly, my usual objections to the trash words “homosexuality” and “gay”, which conflate sexual desire, actions, and social identity formed (or not formed) from those desires and actions.

    The interesting word in this situation is “lobby”, which is, apparently, more akin to the popular meaning of “mafia” than a political pressure group.

    http://wdtprs.com/blog/2013/06/what-is-lobby-all-about-in-the-vatican-gay-lobby-chatter-going-on/

  • Jay

    A little off topic… Does anyone know what exactly this “gay lobby” is actually doing in forms of pressure? I read somewhere that they applied pressure to Pope Benedict to resign, but I think that’s just a little outlandish to believe. Was just wondering if anyone had a reliable source that talks about what this gay lobby is actually doing that is causing so much commotion…

    • boinkie

      Often friends “lose the paperwork” of accusations, or do investigations of minor incidents to hound out those they don’t like. It doesn’t have to be a “gay lobby”….Note the joke about “masonic” conspiracies in the GR essay, yet the old P2 Masonic conspiracy to steal money from the Vatican bank is another scandal that few in the US know about.

  • boinkie

    One Catholic blogger noted that the word translated as “lobby” has connotations of a clique or conspiracy in the original Italian.

    Given the comments of Andrew Greeley in his 1989 biography about such cliques in Chicago’s diocese, the real point is that the “cliques” cover up each other’s sins, (including a lot of missing money) to “protect” the church, so the perpetrators get away with it.

    And Greeley’s sociological statistics on the priesthood suggest a lot fewer priests are gay than most “estimates” (16%) and that most of them, like most heterosexual priests, are celibate: a summary of his findings in this book review.

    http://atheism.about.com/od/bookreviews/fr/PriestsCalling.htm

  • Richard Mounts

    Journalists who write about the Catholic Church and homosexuals should know the following info. It’s not like this info is difficlut to find. It’s no secret. This comment also responds to two comments posted here:

    Jay and FW Ken,

    the “lobby” word hasn’t been explained by Pope Francis or any authorized rep of the Vatican. Really only Pope Francis can explain what he meant, and he’s not talking. My guess is that he means a group of ordained men who homosexuals. They may be celebate or not, but they don’t see being sexually active wrong. Some may want to try to influence Church teaching, but that won’t happen. Why? Because the Church has a long-standing teaching about chastity. Likewise, there is also long-standing teaching regarding homosexuality.

    These teachings treat orientation and action seperately. These teachings are clear that sexual relations outside of marriage (as traditionally defined) are wrong–actually, sinful. ( see the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2353) That applies regardless of someone’s sexual orientation.

    As for discussing homosexuality, the whole teaching of the Church is contained in three paragraphs of the CCC! Three paragraphs out of 2865 paragraphs! In a book of just over 800 pages (in my paperback copy). CCC paragraphs 2357, 2358, and 2359 give the full teaching about homosexuality. The first graf talks about what homosexual orientation is, that it’s genesis is largely unknown, and why homosexual ACTS (emphasis mine) are wrong. Besides the reasoning in this paragraph, also refer to CCC 2353 noted above. Graf 2358 tells us that homosexuals do not choose their homosexuality. It also says that every sign of discrimination in their regard is to be avoided. They are to be “accepted with RESPECT, COMPASSION, AND SENSITIVITY.” (Again, the emphisis is mine.) The last of these three paragraphs, 2359, calls homosexuals to chastity. Now understand, unmarried heterosexuals are also called to the same chastity. Even those who are married are called are called to a conjugal chastity.

    To me it seems that once known, journos especially have no excuse for getting this wrong. Of course the fact that the Church teaches love for all, including homosexuals, (ceIibate or not) doesn’t fit the meme of the MSM.

    • FW Ken

      Richard Mounts -

      Indeed the Catechism does tease out sexual preference (not a sin) from sexual behavior (sinful outside of marriage). Moreover, The instruction on admission of homosexually inclined men to the seminary and the priesthood further identifies the social identity that can be properly called “gay”.

      My objection to these words is that they confound what Catholic teaching (and reason) separate. If you read gay rights advocacy long enough (I’m going on 35 years now), you start to notice a pattern in which “homosexuality” and “gay” take on their different meanings based on the political needs of the advocate. This is a huge journalism issue, since reporters generally adopt the language uncritically, or perhaps for their own advocacy purposes.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    “The story is continuity not change” is very correct. But change in Catholic teaching and practices is what some of the media, among others, desperately want . The last thing some in the increasingly decadent west want is for Rome to be a catalyst for a reinvigoration of traditional Christian morals. So divide is the order of the day.
    Also, Rome has always given a big priority to looking East to our Orthodox brothers and sisters in the hopes of reunion someday. And Russia’s parliament just unanimously joined with its Orthodox Church to take a stand in defense of traditional Christian morality. This story received almost no mainstream coverage.
    It seems like just yesterday Russia, as an atheist Communist state, was Christianity’s greatest foe. Now Rome is finding Moscow may be Christianity’s greatest champion.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    “The Times and other outlets have sought to play off the popes against each other, with Francis being the anti-Benedict.” Indeed, one of the key areas they have done this in is the whole poverty issue. “Rich, fancy Benedict with red shoes and ermine-lined cape vs. plain Jane Francis with iron cross and black shoes.” Check out what Sandro Magister said about this: “Benedict Wanted a ‘Poor’ Church, Too” http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350539?eng=y Not that I expect the MSM to pick up on this, but…

  • Rick L.

    Gay Mafia? That alone told me this piece wasn’t worth my time.

  • John Pack Lambert

    The term “gay lobby” neither implies that the sexual activities (or maybe orientation, it is hard to say) are the main issue. It seems to mainly imply these people have gone to that side over the interest of the whole Church. Having lobbies may work in secular governments, but not a government that seeks to run a world wide church.

    The Times also seems intent on misrepresenting the teachings of the Catholic Church. Catholic teachings are clear that homosexual actions are wrong. Much of the claims about “gays” though focus apparently on people who only have such desires.


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