He first dispensed with his predecessors' distaste for the very word "gay". "Who am I to judge," he said, "if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord with goodwill?" Gay people should not be marginalised from society, he said, before tackling head-on the rumoured, much-discussed existence of a powerful "gay lobby" in the Vatican. If such a thing existed, it was not the most important form of corruption: "The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem."

To understand the significance of homosexuality to the Vatican, one needs to know that a large minority of Catholic priests are thought to be gay and these priests know all too well the catechism's teaching that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". Add this to the Vatican tradition of discrediting an enemy by accusing him of being gay, and the result is a sizeable number of closeted men in positions of authority with deep and potentially damaging secrets. By making same-sex acts a sin, the church moved homosexuality from being a simple matter of sexual orientation into the realm of conspiracy and politics.

The problem is compounded by a document drawn up by Pope Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, which appears to mandate a life in the closet for the gay priest. Although it condemns homosexuality as an attraction towards "an intrinsic moral evil", men who have managed three years of celibacy are assumed to have no "deep-rooted" homosexual orientation. In such an atmosphere, it's no wonder that the phrase "gay lobby" has become so powerful and that almost everyone is suspected of membership.


The English theologian James Alison, himself openly gay, reckons more than 40% of the Catholic clergy today are gay, but that very few are comfortable or honest about it. Other experienced observers concur with this estimate, though few inside the church will speak on the record.

"The notion of a gay lobby is complicated," said Alison. "There are so many uses of the term." Inside the Vatican, the term typically refers to all people outside who claim being gay is normal. The second use, said Alison, was as shorthand for delusional thinking, such as "When people say things like: 'This so-called scientific teaching is merely the result of a powerful gay lobby.'" This shows, said Alison, that the biggest and most successful gay lobby in the Vatican is the closeted one.


Another perspective is supplied by the German theologian David Berger, who for 20 years was part of the closeted traditionalist scene in Germany (Alison notes wryly that the smallest possible Catholic society would be a gathering of straight traditionalist priests). Berger was denounced and sacked from his teaching job when he came out in 2010 and now edits a gay magazine. "In Rome I experienced that these [gay] networks exist but they're not about power grabbing. Nepotism exists in the Vatican anyway, based on friendships. The main aim of these circles is simply to gain access to sex in an uncomplicated way. There is also a lot of paid sex but much unpaid sex as well. There's no gay conspiracy in the Vatican."

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A quote saved on Aug. 18, 2013.


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