By A N Wilson in The Sunday Times, 24 February 2019

Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a French psychiatrist-priest, was close to Cardinal Ratzinger even before he became Pope Benedict XVI. In 2005, Ratzinger asked the increasingly anti-gay Anatrella how to eliminate homosexuality from the seminaries. Anatrella’s draconian advice was to ban not merely practising gays from training for the priesthood, but also chaste men of gay inclination.

Anatrella even came up with a cure for being gay. It turned out, however, that the “reparatory therapies” involved the young men visiting the Monsignor, being asked to undress, and subsequently masturbated by him. After three of them unmasked this Tartuffe, he was, in July 2018, suspended by the Archbishop of Paris (he has denied any wrongdoing).

For the French journalist Frédéric Martel, almost all the clergy in this book are Tartuffes, that is out-and-out hypocrites. His is an unnuanced picture.

John Paul II is said to have turned a blind eye to sex scandals
John Paul II is said to have turned a blind eye to sex scandals

How believable is his claim that 70% or 80% of the inhabitants of the Vatican are gay, most of them secretly practising? One seminarian in Rome tells the author of this sensational book: “The only thing that is really banned is to be heterosexual. Having a girl, bringing a girl back, would mean immediate exclusion.”

Martel takes us to the sleazy cafes and bars around Rome’s Termini station. He notes that the legalisation of homosexuality has meant, in most European cities, that male street prostitution has all but died out. Not in Rome, where the rent boys do a brisk trade with priests, bishops and cardinals. One young man tells Martel that since he started this line of work, he has had hundreds of clerical clients.

Yet the very people who are paying the rent-boys and Swiss Guards, according to this book, are also the people who are vociferous in denouncing homosexuality as a mortal sin. Martel spent years investigating this phenomenon and quickly came to feel that any churchman especially eloquent in his condemnations was almost certainly a practising crypto-homosexual. The gravest sin in the Vatican is not being gay, according to Martel, but bursting out of the closet. The wrath of the Curia and the Popes is reserved for those who lift the lid, especially if they are brave enough to come out themselves.

As the book unfolds, it becomes clear that this is much, much more than an exposé of some taffeta-clad hypocrites who have had the insolence to ban the use of condoms, which would have saved thousands of lives during the Aids epidemic, or to lay down the law to heterosexuals in their marital difficulties. Rather, it asserts that there is something inherently gay about much Catholic thought. We meet the cardinals and monsignori whose dress code in the Vatican is “lace by day, leather by night”. We also consider the figure of Jacques Maritain (tormented crypto-gay and married), one of the most influential Catholic intellectuals of the 20th century and a great influence on Pope Paul VI (himself gay). Gayness coloured the whole of Maritain’s thinking, says Martel. But then he reminds us that one of the intellectuals most under Maritain’s spell, Cardinal Jean Daniélou, said by the Catholic Press when he died in 1974 to be giving spiritual nourishment to a young woman, in fact died totally naked in “Mimi” Santoni’s arms in a Parisian brothel.

Some will question Martel’s thesis that Catholicism itself is intrinsically a bit gay. What can’t be denied, though, is that he has exposed some truly awful rogues. The Papal nuncio in Chile during Augusto Pinochet’s time, Angelo Sodano, was especially nauseating: living in camp luxury, pro-Pinochet, he did much to mitigate the dictator’s murderous crimes. Abetted by John Paul II, Sodano excluded from the Chilean Bishops’ Conference any who tried to tell the truth.

Especially fascinating is the power struggle being waged at the moment between the traditionalist pontiffs, clad like figures painted by Titian, with watered silk and yards of lace, and aides of the more liberal Pope Francis. Both sides in the struggle, Martel alleges, are really gay. “It’s an intra-closet war”, said the Dominican gay theologian James Alison.

Most of the material in the book was given off the record, so we do not have as clear an answer as we should like to the biggest question: how much did successive Popes know? Martel believes that Benedict XVI tearfully decided to resign when, during his trip to Cuba, the full extent of the sex scandals was revealed to him. But he must have known? John Paul II, sorry, saint John Paul II, turned a blind eye to it, as he did to the murders by dictators in South America, so long as the perpetrators were anti-communist. John Paul promoted the American Paul Marcinkus to be head of the Vatican Bank. Cardinal Marcinkus, with his voracious appetite for sex with Swiss Guards, sold $14.5m of counterfeit US bonds, and had Roberto Calvi of Banco Ambrosiano murdered — he was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982. John Paul defended Marcinkus to the end, just as he favoured Monsignor John Magee, who covered up dozens of abuse cases in Ireland.

Not since Baron Corvo’s Hadrian the Seventh has there been a book that makes us quite so conscious of what a weird psycho-journey the life of faith involves.

AN Wilson’s books include The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible

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