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Review: Not much substance In the Closet of the Vatican

The controversial new book by French author and LGBT activist Frederic Martel presents innuendos, but not evidence or documents. It is a gossip-filled, romanticized book, but does not present itself as a scholarly or objective account.

(Image of St. Peter's in Rome: Paul C Barranco/

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- “In the closet of the Vatican,” a newly released book by the French author and LGBT activist Frederic Martel, is generating global media attention and discussion among Vatican figures in Rome.

Published Feb. 21, the same day a Vatican summit on sexual abuse and the protection of minors begins, the book is simultaneously launched in 8 languages. Martel says he had 3 years to draft the text, with funds provided to travel and conduct his interviews, and, he says, with the help of about 80 collaborators.

The general thesis of the book is that the Vatican is among the most active hotbeds of homosexuality in the world. Martel has said in interviews that his goal is to shed light on the hypocrisy of those officials in the Vatican who, he says, practice homosexuality and then condemn it.

Martel’s book constructs a dividing line between the good and the bad, those he says are in the closet but working to come out, and those who stay in the closet, often while protesting LGBT social movements.

His is an ideological investigation; his anecdotes are used to advance a thesis that many have called predetermined. His text does not seem to strive for objective analysis, or to make use of sociological research or statistical data.

The book seems to have two additional goals, which, embedded in the presuppositions of the text, might not have been even willfully intended by the author.

The first is to question the nature of the priesthood itself. At issue is not merely celibacy, Martel seems to argue, but the broader virtue of chastity, since, his perspective seems to hold that sexual impulses among the clergy cannot really be mastered.

The second seems to be advocacy for a transition in the Vatican, one that would excise the old establishment, to establish a new one built according to the spirit of the world. That is, according to a pansexual vision, beyond Catholic moral categories and concerns.

The book must be read as it is. It presents innuendos, but not evidence or documents. It is a gossip-filled, romanticized book, but does not present itself as a scholarly or objective account.

The Vatican has a long history of books like Martel’s, though their quality and utility has varied dramatically over the years.

The first of the genre was “Gone with the Wind in the Vatican,” published under a pseudonym in 1999. The author, later revealed to be long-time curial official Mons. Luigi Marinelli, wrote gossip and innuendo elegantly, without naming names. References were precise, though, and it was easy to discern the targets of his stories. In the end, Marinelli’s book, for what it was, was well-documented.

More recently, books by Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi were filled with Vatican documents, and were at the origins of the second Vatileaks trial. Though the books were filled with imprecision and a sometimes biased reading of the documents, they too were based on documents.

“In the closet of the Vatican” begins with gossip Martel collected in several interviews. The author says he recorded them all, and it would be interesting to listen to the full audio files, in order to contextualize some excerpts.

Martel maintains he was able to enter in the “Vatican’s closet” thanks to codes he understood that helped him to be introduced to this hidden gay world. However, it seems he never got into the Vatican proper, and, when looking at the Vatican from a key-hole, he did so with a negative prejudice.

Some examples:

Martel had a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, in his apartment in the Ethiopian College, a building at the top of the Vatican gardens that is also home to Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, and was the home of the late U.S. Cardinal Edmund Szoka.

Sodano, Martel writes, “is locked up in his African ivory tower, with all his secrets. If the Garden of Eden ever existed, it must be like this little earthly paradise: when I go there, crossing a bridge, I find myself among impeccably tended lawns and fragrant magnolias. It’s a Mediterranean garden, with pines and cypresses and, of course, olive trees. In the surrounding cedars I see purple-headed and mustachioed parrots, elegant and multi-coloured, whose mellifluous voices doubtless wake Cardinal Sodano from his slumbers”.

The description might suggest that all of this “Eden” is part of the Ethiopian College. In fact, these are the Vatican’s gardens, which occupy almost all of the Vatican City State’s territory. The Vatican is the greenest state in the world, and the Ethiopian College is one of the buildings in its gardens.

One of Martel’s guides into the closet of the Vatican is Francesco Lepore, a laicized priest and a Vatican employee at the office of Latin language at the Vatican Secretariat of State. Lepore left the priesthood after discovering his homosexuality.

Telling the story of Lepore, Martel underscored that “on 30 November 2003, the Neapolitan priest joined Domus Sanctae Marthae, the official residence of the cardinals at the Vatican – and the current home of Pope Francis.”

Domus Sanctae Marthae is not the cardinals’ official residence. It is a hotel that also hosts guests who have business with the Holy See. It becomes the cardinals’ residence during the conclave, as determined by St. John Paul II in 1996. Though Pope Francis has also resided there since being elected, Domus Sanctae Marthae still functions as a hotel, and not as a cardinals’ residence.

Martel’s description of the episcopal ordination of Georg Gaenswein is also revealing of the lens through which the author reads the Vatican.

Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, now prefect of the Pontifical Household, Gaenswein was ordained a bishop by Benedict XVI on Jan. 6, 2013. Together with him, Benedict XVI ordained Bishops Vincenzo Zani, Fortunatus Nwachukwu and Nicolas Henry Marie Denis Thevenin.

In Martel’s view, that solemn celebration was merely Benedict XVI’s homage to Gaenswein, described in a text filled with innuendos about the relationship between the two.

Martel writes: “Benedict XVI insisted on giving the pastoral ring to His Bavarian Excellency Georg Gänswein in person, in a Fellini-esque ceremony engraved forever on the memory of the 450 statues, 500 columns and 50 altars of the basilica.”

Then, Martel describes the celebration as if all other papal liturgical celebrations are not the same.

“First comes the procession, slow, superb, and choreographed to perfection; the pope with his huge topaz-yellow mitre, standing in a little indoor popemobile, a throne on wheels, travels like a giant the full 200-metre length of the nave to the sound of triumphant brass, beautiful organ sounds and the children’s choir of St Peter’s, straight as unlit candles.”

The little indoor Popemobile was in fact the small wheeled device that Benedict XVI used since 2011 to “alleviate fatigue.”

Martel goes on, saying that “the chalices are encrusted with precious stones; the censers smoke. In the front rows of this new style of episcopal organization, dozens of cardinals and hundreds of bishops and priests in their finest robes provide a palette of red, white and oxblood. There are flowers everywhere, as if at a wedding.”

And yes, Vatican decorations are always like this, as are the ornamental stones on chalices.

Everything is thus seen through a distopyc lens to carry on an ideology.

The book is also filled with stories of cardinals and bishops described as well known homosexuals, sometimes targeted by name but always without reliable sources.

Cardinal Burke is presented as a cardinal who “likes to be spoken of in the feminine: ‘Votre Éminence peut être fière’; ‘Votre Éminence est grande’; ‘Votre Éminence est trop bonne’ (‘Your Eminence can be proud’; ‘Your Eminence is great’; ‘Your Eminence is too kind’).”

The feminine is in fact the “lei,”  the Italian formal “you.” It coincides with the third singular feminine person, but has an entirely different meaning, which Martel seems not to understand.

Speaking about the Karadima case – the Chilean abuser priest that Pope Francis dismissed from the clerical state in 2018 – Martel also involves Cardinal Sodano, who was Vatican Secretary of State from 1990 through 2006.

Martel writes: “The reasons that led Sodano (as well as Cardinal Errázuriz, who replaced Sodano as secretary of state in 2006) to protect this paedophile priest remain mysterious.”

Notably, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa has never been Secretary of State, though he held the position of Secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life from 1990 to 1996.

These inaccuracies are mixed with many information taken from press reports and gossips, sometimes presented with the sentence “other sources confirm,” but without in fact giving any real evidence.

Looking at it carefully, the biggest attacks are made against those who cannot defend themselves. It is the case for Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who died in 2008, and was president of the Pontifical Council for the Family from 1990 to his death. Martel targets him because, he says, he was an anti-gay lobbyist though he was a practicing homosexual. He offers neither proof, nor the possibility of defense.

The book presents a Vatican where everyone is gay, and those who are not would like to be.

There are certainly sins and human miseries in the Vatican, and many claim that homosexuality is part of the abuse crisis, and must be discussed.

But the Vatican is not demonstrably a gay state. Alleged homosexuality is often a weapon used in order to stamp out careers. When Pope Francis speaks about the terrorism of gossip, he is speaking about that.

It is striking that Martel initially got in touch with the Vatican’s world through Krysztof Charamsa. Charamsa is the official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who outed himself on the eve of the 2015 Synod on the family, announcing his homosexual relation with a Spanish man.

Martel writes: “The first time I heard the name of Krzysztof Charamsa was in an email, from him. The prelate contacted me when he was still working for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Polish priest had enjoyed, he told me, my book Global Gay, and he asked for my help in communicating through the media his imminent coming out, though he swore me to secrecy on the subject.”

Once Martel verified that account, he did help Charamsa. It was 2015. Shortly after, he began to draft “In the Closet of the Vatican.”

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About Andrea Gagliarducci, Catholic News Agency 51 Articles
Andrea Gagliarducci is Vatican analyst for Catholic News Agency.


  1. A lot of it sounds very exaggerated. But given the ongoing insistence of all the top leaders to downplay the gay and delay and stall on meaningful reforms, a lot more of it sounds likely true. Otherwise how could a majority of straight men tolerate messages like those of James Martin? Even when we have a Jesuit pope who promises heart-stopping reforms, all we get is more of the same bureaucracy and apparent distaste for clear moral teaching and orthodoxy. It seems clear these mean believe ‘love’ trumps any stress on clean living or right belief, and the press their preference into an ‘Either/Or’ paradigm that is completely unCatholic. The fact is there are to many practicing gays in the priesthood. No survey is needed to intuit that.

  2. It is the perfect time for a hit piece. Few will notice the author’s rabid ideological bent.

    More of the same from the homosexual community and what a time to feel so self-righteous.

    • This is why I don’t understand why Andrea considers this book worth reading at all; why even write about it. As I said on another site – he claims Pope Benedict is homosexually oriented and that he flirts with men…right then and there Andrea should have seen that the book is not worth reading much less urging others to read it. It’s a shameful book written by a spiteful gay man…and should be thrown in the trash.

  3. I would encourage readers to study, and comment upon, Damian Thompson’s article on this new book, recently published within The Spectator. Thompson sees Francis’ closest protagonists at work in facilitating the writing, as many of the attacked, if not almost all, are those who are considered to be Francis’ enemies (meaning those who are rightly appalled by the governance of the Church under this man).

  4. Feb. 22: “The book must be read as it is” … you are the only one I have heard say that the book must be read at all! As soon as I read his accusation that Pope Benedict seems to be homosexually oriented and ‘flirts’ with men I knew it was trash. I honestly don’t understand why you have given it so much of your time. The man seems to be a bitter homosexual and wants to ‘out’ others – he seems childish and spiteful and is probably laughing at all who consider him relevant and a professional journalist.

  5. Rod Dreher has a very interesting summary that begins, “It’s as if Martel wrote the thing in purple felt-tip marker while tipsy on pink squirrels at a French Quarter piano bar. But then he turns a corner despite himself at the end and quotes Michael Brendan Dougherty saying, “To hell with them all.” I sort of feel the same way. The Vatican needs emptying and cleaning. Top to bottom.

  6. Why would I read a book that managed to get written not with fingertips on a keyboard but somehow by the rolling of an “author’s” eyes?

  7. We here in New Zealand along way from Rome have so many unanswered questions from the pulpit. We are always urged to contribute funds for the upkeep of the Vatican encourage our young men to take up the cloth whilst never reassuring the faithful on some of the awful public reports of sexual abuse and convictions with in the church. If even a smidgen of this book has any validity It certainly answers the question why there is no interest in the church having equality with woman priests . We heard the author on radio broadcast interview here in New Zealand where he had an open forum of questions from the very top radio interviewer. Despite many of the previous comments I as a Listner felt his replies were open and Frank and I am reading the book at the moment and will make note and check some of the mistakes you believe have been made in some of the contents. I look forward with interest to hear comments from Pope Francis himself as there seems to have been an openness to let the author interview and wander freely in the Vatican. I don’t see how these innuendos as you say in the previous comment can be made from open interviews. The institution of the church has become man-made controlled by men a far cry from the message of Jesus.

  8. Everyones entitled to an opinion on the book but I fail to see the relevance of highlighting that this was released on the same day a Vatican summit on sexual abuse and the protection of minors begins.. ?… theres no link here… so what’s being implied?

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