Yesterday 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.