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Frédéric Martel sets the cat among the pigeons at the Vatican

By Peter Sellick - posted Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Martel is a French journalist trained in sociology, openly gay and an unbeliever who has spent the last four years travelling the globe interviewing, with the help of researchers, 41 cardinals, 52 bishops, 45 apostolic nuncios, 11 Swiss guards and over 200 priests. While there are now many books, documents and commissions that have revealed the extent of sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church, his book "In the Closet of the Vatican" is the first in-depth account of the intricacies of homosexual practice among priests. Further, it confirms most of the accusations made by Carlo Maria Vigano in 2019.

Martel covers the use of male prostitution in Rome, the lavish apartments of the cardinals and their cults of personality, the role of the church in Columbia with the removal of those associated with liberation theology. He gives a full description of the sexual abuse that occurred in the organisation, The Legions of Christ, under the notorious Marcial Maciel, who was allowed to die of old age in the Vatican with no convictions for a multitude of known sexual offences. There are detailed descriptions of the lives of cardinals in the upper circles of the Vatican.

The book runs to 555 pages and does not include footnotes or index. Instead, a 74,000 word document, that is still a work in progress, is available at


The difficulty in researching the lives of Vatican prelates is that they cover private vice with public piety. The prelates who are most homophobic in public are the ones who live double lives of homosexual practice while gay-friendly prelates are usually heterosexual. Martel reveals that during the papacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the hierarchy of the Vatican was dominated by closeted homosexuals. This has occurred because, paradoxically, young homosexuals see the priesthood as the solution to them finding a life that is respected and protected from questions of marriage. This is paradoxical because the Catholic Church regards homosexual acts as grave depravity and as "intrinsically disordered".

Martel formulates rules of the Vatican closet. The first rule is:

For a long time, the priesthood was an ideal escape-route for young homosexuals. Homosexuality is one of the keys to their vocation. ( p8)

This explains why there exists a disproportionately high number of homosexuals among the ordained than in ordinary life. We might ask why homosexual men would be attracted to the most homophobic institution on earth?

One of the priests Martel interviews explains:

The seminary was a temporary solution. I wanted to see if homosexuality was a lasting thing for me. Afterwards, the seminary became a compromise solution. My parents want to believe that I'm not a homosexual; they like the fact that I'm in a seminary. And in a way it lets me live according to my tastes. It isn't easy, but it's better that way. If you have any doubts about your sexuality, if you don't want people around you to know that you are gay, if you don't want to hurt your mother: then you go to the seminary. (p414)


Thus, the rule of priestly celibacy sets a trap for those who are not in need of a wife but do need a respectable position in society. There is also the hope that the holy life will heal the thorn in their side, that is, their inclination towards the same sex. Alas, this is not the case for many who may begin with chastity but eventually progress, in the favourable environs of the Vatican, to full sexual practice with male prostitutes, boys in the parish or fellow clergy. The agony is that they find themselves trapped in an institution that goes into frenzies against homosexuality and homosexual acts and they are forced into leading a double life with all that entails.

As Pope Francis stated, "Behind rigidity, there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life." They are rigid because they are afraid that if gay marriage or homosexual acts were normalised, then their safe house would be exposed for what it is - hypocrisy.

Martel observes that as society, in general, became more open to gays and gay marriage, much to the distress of Benedict XVI, vocations of the priesthood fell off a cliff. The driving force of many vocations simply evaporated, at least in the West. Gays found that as they were more accepted in society, there was less needed to hide in the priesthood.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences.

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