Yesterday’s announcement of Cardinal George Pell’s conviction for sexual abuse is another sickening example of the endemic culture of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Of course, other denominations have not been without their offenders, but the problem does seem particularly endemic within the Catholic Church.
Just last week, on 21st February, the book, “In The Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality & Hypocrisy” was published, written by French journalist Frédéric Martel. It was released in 8 languages in 20 countries and is the product of 4 years of research and interviews with over 1,500 people in 30 countries, including 41 cardinals, 52 bishops, 200 priests and 45 apostolic nuncios. Martel, an openly gay man, says his homosexuality was helpful in encouraging clergy to speak candidly with him.
Some of the more disturbing revelations of the book include Cardinals high up in the Vatican leading “double lives”, including the use of male prostitutes and the conducting of long-term homosexual affairs. Names are named, and Martel claims that the Pope is fully aware of the problem, prompting his regular homilies about hypocrisy. Past Popes, too, have not been able to deal with the problem. For example, once again naming names, Martel describes the senior cardinals under Pope John Paul II as a “ring of lust”, leading debauched homosexual lives.
Martel comments, “the world I am discovering, with its 50 shades of gay, is beyond comprehension”. His book makes the claim that 80% of cardinals and bishops in the Vatican are homosexual in orientation, although Martel does not indicate how many of these are homosexual in practice. He says that the term, “he’s of the parish” is a code term used within the Vatican to identify someone as being of homosexual orientation.
I haven’t read the book, and I don’t want to, but the recent rash of detailed reviews of the book since its publication a week or so ago are enough to raise my ire. I heard a podcast of Martel being interviewed, as well as a review of that interview on ABC radio, Sydney, and it does appear as though his research is fairly solid and well-substantiated, including hundreds of hours of taped interview with clergy. Martel and his publishers also had a large team of lawyers vetting every page of the book to ensure that every claim was substantiated and not open to litigation.
What are we to make of this? I believe that enforced celibacy for Catholic priests is a huge contributing factor to the problem, for two reasons. Firstly, it demands that men wanting to serve God and the church must completely bury their natural sexual urges. By denying priests the right to experience emotional and sexual companionship in marriage, it results in their sexual urges sometimes finding darker, morally unacceptable avenues of release. Secondly, enforced celibacy may also be an attractive proposition for some men who are struggling with their latent homosexuality and who hope that an enforced life of celibacy may help them to control their urges. In other words, the reason why such a high percentage of Catholic clergy may be homosexual in orientation may be that men of that persuasion may be attracted to the priesthood, particularly if they initially regard the priesthood as a means of overcoming their unwanted sexual predilections.
Whatever the reasons, however, Martel’s claim of 80% homosexual orientation within Vatican clergy, if it is true, is certainly way beyond the estimated 2 to 3% prevalence of homosexuality within the general population. Clearly, there is something massively dysfunctional going on. The Pope has come under increasing pressure in recent times to allow clergy marriage, and I suspect that enforced clergy celibacy will be overturned within the Catholic Church within the next decade or so.
Let me be clear: In no way is the crime of George Pell and similar clergy offenders excusable. These sexual crimes against children are evil acts perpetrated by sick individuals who deserve to be locked away. But the institutional church also needs to shoulder some blame, not only for covering up these crimes and allowing known offenders to continue in ministry, but also, in the case of the Catholic Church, for its persistence in insisting on the archaic and unnatural practice of clergy celibacy.
In the meantime, my heart goes out to the victims of these heinous crimes. May justice be done, and the perpetrators be held to account. And may this endemic sickness be cleansed from the institutional church hierarchies that seem to have protected and hidden it for so long.
(Postscript: Enforced celibacy was introduced in 1139 A.D. by a law passed by the Second Lateran Council, and was reinforced by the Council of Trent in 1563).