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.