Michelangelo's "The Creation"
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“Welcome to Sodoma.” So said a confessor-priest to French writer and journalist Frederic Martel as he was escorted into the Vatican. Martel, author of In the Closet of the Vatican, spent four years conducting well over 1,000 interviews with hundreds of Vatican officials and clergymen. What Martel has uncovered should come as no surprise: the Vatican–enemy of gay rights, hotbed of aggressive homophobia–is a club (under the uber-conservative papacy of John Paul II, it more resembled a brothel) for repressed gay men. Indeed, Martel found two trends that should shock, shock us all: “Homosexuality spreads the closer one gets to the holy of holies; there are more and more homosexuals as one rises through the Catholic hierarchy. The more vehemently opposed a cleric is to gays, the stronger his homophobic obsession, the more likely it is that he is insincere, and that his vehemence conceals something.”

Among Martel’s sources are humane gay men, like the scholar Francesco Lepore, who left the church, but have not abandoned their faith. Lepore speaks freely of the myriad affairs he carried on with other officials while he was a priest, and he offers a stunning estimate: he believes 80 percent of the Vatican is gay.

There’s more. Martel’s book includes stunning anecdotes of other transgressions. The late Colombian cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, who enabled the murders of left-wing theologians, apparently got off to beating male prostitutes after having his way with them, according to Martel’s account. Stories like this are surely what will garner most of the attention as news of the book spreads.

But what should command even more attention is that Martel may very well have furnished conclusive evidence for why the Catholic Church is unable to root out the systemic rape and torture of children: the system of secrecy that gay clergymen have to endure to keep their jobs is the same one that rapists rely on to go unpunished. The church leadership in turn gets to maintain deniability when the inevitable discoveries of systemic abuse are uncovered.

A “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” culture, the threat of being “outed” (or being falsely accused of being gay), and the historically engrained habit of prioritizing the church’s image over the well-being of the children under its care, create the psychology and structures that make accountability impossible.

In short, the only way the Catholic Church stops being what it is now–a twisted, antiquated, hypocritical haven for child torturers–is by ending its charade of celibacy, allowing women to join the clergy, and freeing its members to lead open sexual lives with whomever they please. That might mean reversing everything the church has been for thousands of years. But, glancing at the church’s history, that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

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Joshua Alvarez is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal. He edits syndicated opinion columns at the Washington Post, and can be reached at joshuaalvarezmail@gmail.com.