Discussions of Frederic Martel’s controversial book, In the Closet of the Vatican, have continued well past its release on the day the Vatican’s summit on clergy sexual abuse opened in February. LGBTQ advocates have worried about the book’s impact since before its release. Other reviews have questioned what the lasting impact of this book may be for the Church. This post provides excerpts from some of the latest commentaries with links provided for further reading.
More voices have been added to Syndicate’sonline symposiumabout the book, which has featured such voices as Fr. James Alison and Dr. Brian Flanagan. Travis LaCouter, a doctoral candidate in theology, provided interesting background to why he believes Martel, an atheist, wrote a book about Catholicism:
“But then what is Martel trying to accomplish with this book? I wasn’t sure of the answer to this question until I reached the illuminating, even tender Epilogue, where Martel lays his cards on the table. He’s quick to declare that he’s ‘not Catholic [and] not even a believer’—Molière’s Dom Juan means more to him, he says, than the Gospel of John (544, 546). But then he tells the story of a brilliant young parish priest he knew as a boy growing up in traditionally Catholic Avignon. This dynamic curate, who so excited the bright young Martel’s imagination, who sparked his intellectual curiosity and broadened his cultural and artistic horizons—this same priest later died of AIDS ‘abandoned by almost everyone [and] in terrible pain.’ This priest’s homosexuality caused him to be ‘rejected by the Church – his only family – denied by his diocese and kept at arm’s length by his bishop’ (549). If intellectual doubts hadn’t chased Martel away from the Church, witnessing this betrayal would have. It’s a story that I daresay countless cradle Catholics will recognize: A good priest reduced to ash (in this case literally—AIDS victims at the time were required to be cremated) for the simple reason that he is gay.”
LaCouter claims that Martel’s book is written not against gay priests, but on their behalf. Describing the book as “far less sensationalist than its press would have you believe,” the reviewer still believes it will be fruitful in this “parrhesiastic moment” for the Church–a moment in which long silenced truths are given voice.
Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, a theologian who has worked with the LGBTQ community, also shared his thoughts via Syndicatewhich were more what occurred in his thinking than a review of the book. One thought relates to the locus for changing Church teaching on homosexuality, which Martel says is a necessity for reform. Mongeau writes:
“[T]o the extent that Martel has correctly identified distorted Vatican politics as partly responsible for the Church’s contemporary stance on homosexuality, to that extent he has shown this teaching is not of the Spirit and will need to change. But there are better examples in the Church of healthy LGBTQ persons — single, coupled, and celibate — choosing to respond in authentic ways to the call of the gospel. There are also a number of communities such as the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach of Chicago and All Inclusive Ministries in Toronto whose experience would be instructive. Listening to these experiences, and retrieving the wider tradition. . .will prove far more helpful.”
Another Jesuit, Fr. Anthony Egan, explored the possibilities that In the Closet of the Vatican creates for the Church. Writing in Spotlight.Africa, Egan described the book as the most difficult one to review in his thirty years of writing such pieces. He explained:
“What has held me back is a desire to see its impact on the current and ongoing crises rocking the Catholic Church. . .Martel’s book presents us with a crisis in the Church. It is possible that some will react against the book —and the broader crisis — with denial, denunciation and a refusal to change; with an assertion of power from the top and continuing obstruction of all efforts to reform the Church. Even if this might lead to separation (schism). . .
“We need a Church that is rooted in honest, scientific, systematic and open re-examination of sexuality, celibacy, gender and power. Not, one might add, to destroy but — if I may shamelessly plagiarise St Paul — to build up the Body of Christ.”
The conversation about Frederic Martel’s book–and about homosexuality in the clergy more broadly–will certainly continue in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here are a few additional resources.
Other reviews and commentaries you may wish to read include: