Pod people: Vatican gay lobby or a gay Lobby?

Where should the stress be placed in Pope Francis’ phrase the “gay lobby”? Upon the first word “gay” or the second, “lobby”?

This semantic game animated my discussion this week with Todd Wilken, the host of Lutheran Public Radio’s Issues, Etc program, as we did this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to listen). In our conversation we contrasted The New York Times coverage of Pope Francis’s comments that a gay lobby existed at the Vatican to the coverage in the European and religion press.

Wilken started off by asking if this whole topic was really new news? I was polite and responded that this issue is only 100 years or so old, which I admit was a misstatement on my part. But it would’ve been bad form to quote Pope Pius V on a Lutheran program.

In his Constitution Horrendum illud scelus of 30  August 1568, Pius stated:

In his That horrible crime, on account of which corrupt and obscene cities were destroyed by fire through divine condemnation, causes us most bitter sorrow and shocks our mind, impelling us to repress such a crime with the greatest possible zeal.

Quite opportunely the Fifth Lateran Council [1512-1517] issued this decree: “Let any member of the clergy caught in that vice against nature, given that the wrath of God falls over the sons of perfidy, be removed from the clerical order or forced to do penance in a monastery” (chap. 4, X, V, 31).

So that the contagion of such a grave offense may not advance with greater audacity by taking advantage of impunity, which is the greatest incitement to sin, and so as to more severely punish the clerics who are guilty of this nefarious crime and who are not frightened by the death of their souls, we determine that they should be handed over to the severity of the secular authority, which enforces civil law.

Therefore, wishing to pursue with greater rigor than we have exerted since the beginning of our pontificate, we establish that any priest or member of the clergy, either secular or regular, who commits such an execrable crime, by force of the present law be deprived of every clerical privilege, of every post, dignity and ecclesiastical benefit, and having been degraded by an ecclesiastical judge, let him be immediately delivered to the secular authority to be put to death, as mandated by law as the fitting punishment for laymen who have sunk into this abyss.

Pius did not mince words. Obviously.

One can say that this is not new news, but Pope Francis’ discussion of the problem was new. But should the news reports stress the homosexuality angle or the clique?

The New York Times emphasized the gay in their report unlike the European press which focused on the lobby. Is this the difference without significance? I would say no.

Had this been the first instance accusations have been raised about gay clique at the heart of the Catholic Church then the emphasis would best be placed on what members of the clique had in common. But as this is not new — apart from the Pope’s admission to the existence of such a problem — the better story is a discussion of the clique.

We need to step back however and recognize the “gay lobby” phrase is not a direct quote but a third-party summation of Francis’s words. In Spanish and later in the Italian reports the word translated into English as lobby has connotations of a Mafia or a cabal — not merely a political a pressure group. The European reporting highlighted the problem of priests having a higher loyalty to members of this Mafia then to their ecclesiastical superiors or to the discipline of the church.

While sex is always a good story — and homosexuality is a meme the New York Times cannot do without — the deeper story is the cleansing of the Curia of an old boys network. This story focuses on the gay old boys network, but there are other networks in the Curia who have stymied reform. And in this area, I told Todd it was my belief that the agenda of Popes Benedict and Francis are almost identical — Francis is not the anti-Benedict beloved of op-ed writers on this side of the Atlantic.

Well, that’s a bit more about what I wanted to say anyway. Listen and tell me what you think.

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