Grindr, blackmail and confession: The life of a gay seminarian

Frédéric Martel on power, homosexuality and hypocrisy in the closet of the Vatican

Holy See: between 60 and 70 per cent of seminarians are gay, according to Axel.

By

Ydier and Axel are two seminarians whom I meet at the Mario Mieli cultural centre, in Rome. (Their names have been changed.)

“There are about 20 of us in my seminary. Seven are clearly gay. About six others have, we might say, tendencies. That agrees more or less with the usual percentage: between 60 and 70 per cent of seminarians are gay. Sometimes I think it’s as many as 75 per cent,” Axel tells me.

The young man would like to join the Rota, one of the three tribunals in the Holy See, and the initial reason for him attending the seminary.

Ydier wants to become a teacher. He wears a white cross on his shirt, and has dazzling blond hair. I mention this. “Fake blond! It’s fake! I have brown hair,” he tells me.

The seminarian goes on: ‘The atmosphere at my seminary is also very homosexual. But there are important nuances. There are students who really live out their homosexuality; others who don’t, or not yet.

“There are homosexuals who are really chaste; there are also heterosexuals who are practising for want of women, out of substitution, one might say. And there are others who only live it out secretly. It’s a very unique atmosphere.”

Even many older ordinands are still virgins when they reach the seminary. In contact with other boys, their tendencies are revealed or come into focus

The two seminarians share more or less the same analysis: in their view the celibacy rule and the prospect of living together prompts young men who are undecided about their inclinations to join Catholic establishments. They are far from their village for the first time, without their family, and in a strictly masculine context and strongly homosexual universe they begin to understand their uniqueness.

Often, the ordinands – even the older ones – are still virgins when they reach the seminary: in contact with other boys, their tendencies are revealed or come into focus. Then the seminaries become the context for future priests “coming out” and having their first experiences. It’s a real rite of passage.

The story of former American seminarian Robert Mickens sums up a path taken by many.

“What was the solution when you discovered that you had a different ‘sensibility’ in an American city like Toledo, Ohio, where I come from? What were the options? For me going to the seminary was a way of dealing with my homosexuality. I was in conflict with myself. I didn’t want to confront that question in the United States.

“I left for Rome in 1986, and I studied at the Pontifical North American College. During my third year at the seminary, when I was 25, I fell in love with a boy.” (By his own choice Michens was never ordained as a priest: he became a journalist at Radio Vatican, where he stayed for 11 years, and then for the Tablet, and he is now editor-in-chief of La Croix International. He lives in Rome, where I met him several times.)

Another seminarian, a Portuguese man I met in Lisbon, tells me a story quite similar to that of Mickens. He had the courage to come out to his parents. His mother replied: “At least we’ll have a priest in the family.” (He joined the seminary.)

Another example: that of Lafcadio, a Latin American priest of about 30 who now teaches in a Roman seminary (his name has been changed). I met him at the Propaganda restaurant after he became the lover of one of my translators. No longer able to conceal his homosexuality, he chose to talk to me frankly, and we’ve met up again for dinner five times during this investigation.

Like Ydier, Axel and Robert, Lafcadio linked his career path to his homosexuality. After a difficult adolescence in the depths of Latin America, but with no initial doubts about his sexuality, he chose to join the seminary “out of a sincere vocation”, he tells me, even though an emotional laziness and boundless ennui – the cause of which he didn’t know at the time – may have played a part in his decision.

Gradually, he managed to put a name to his malaise: homosexuality. And then, suddenly, a chance event: on a bus, a boy put his hand on his thigh.

I’m often horny. So many nights spent in random beds – and still this promise to return to the seminary before curfew

Lafcadio tells me: “I suddenly froze. I didn’t know what to do. As soon as the bus stopped, I fled. But that evening I was obsessed by that trivial gesture. I thought about it constantly. It seemed terribly good, and I hoped it would happen again.’

He gradually discovered and accepted his homosexuality, and left for Italy, since the Roman seminaries were “traditionally”, he tells me, the place “where the sensitive boys of Latin America are sent”.

In the capital he started living a well-compartmentalised life, without ever allowing himself to spend the night away from the seminary where he stayed, and where he now had important responsibilities.

With me he is “openly gay”, and he talks about his obsessions as intense sexual desires. “I’m often horny,” he says. “So many nights spent in random beds – and still this promise to return to the seminary before curfew, even when there were so many things to do!”

In accepting his homosexuality, Lafcadio also started seeing the Church in another light.

“Since then I’ve got better at decoding things. Sometimes I find monsignori, archbishops and cardinals making passes at me in the Vatican. Before I wasn’t aware of what they wanted from me. And now I know!” (Lafcadio became one of my precious informers because, young and good looking, with close connections inside the Roman Curia, he was subjected to sustained emotional solicitations and recurrent flirtations on the part of several cardinals, bishops and even a “liturgy queen” in the pope’s entourage – several of which encounters he described to me.)

Like a number of seminarians I have interviewed, Lafcadio describes to me another phenomenon that is particularly widespread in the church, so much so that it has a name: crimen sollicitationis (solicitation in confession). In confessing their homosexuality to their priest or spiritual director, the seminarians leave themselves exposed.

“A number of priests to whom I have confessed my doubts or attractions have made advances to me,” he tells me.

Often these solicitations are fruitless: at other times they receive consent and lead to a relationship; sometimes couples form. At yet other times these confessions – even though this is a sacrament – lead to touching, harassment, blackmail or sexual aggression.

The church puts up with the denunciation of homosexuals, but it forbids priests who are made aware of sexual abuse in confession to betray that secret

When a seminarian confesses that he has attractions or tendencies, he takes risks. In some cases the young man is denounced by his superior, as the former priest Francesco Lepore experienced at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

“In the course of a confession I mentioned my internal conflicts to one of the chaplains of Opus Dei. I was open and a bit naive. What I didn’t know was that he would betray me and tell everyone around him.”

Other seminarians have been trapped into having their confessions used against them to exclude them from the seminary; something that is strictly illegal under canon law because the secrets of the confessional are absolute, and betraying them should mean excommunication.

“Here again the church demonstrates double standards. It puts up with the denunciation of homosexuals, whose admissions have been elicited in confession, but it forbids priests who are made aware of sexual abuse in confession to betray that secret,” one seminarian laments.

According to several witnesses, cruising in confession occurs particularly frequently during the first few months of a seminarian’s training, during the year of “discernment” or “propaedeutic”, more rarely at the level of the diaconate.

Among the regular clergy, Dominicans, Franciscans and Benedictines have confirmed to me that they underwent this “rite of passage” as novices. Advances made, whether consented to or not, are justified by a kind of biblical excuse: in the Book of Job the guilty party is the one who yields to temptation, not the tempter themselves; in a seminary then the guilty party is ultimately always the seminarian and not the predatory superior – and here we encounter the whole inversion of the values of good and evil that the church constantly maintains.

Most of the seminarians I interviewed helped me to understand something that I hadn’t grasped, and that is very nicely summed up by a young German I met by chance in the streets of Rome.

“I don’t see that as a double life. A double life would be something secret and hidden. But my homosexuality is well known within the seminary. It isn’t noisy, it isn’t militant, but it is known. What is truly forbidden, however, is to be militantly in favour, to assert oneself. But as long as one remains discreet, everything is fine.’

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule does outstanding work, as it does elsewhere in the church. Homosexual practice is better tolerated in the seminaries when it is not displayed. But woe to him who causes a scandal!

“The only thing that is really banned is to be heterosexual. Having a girl, bringing a girl back, would mean immediate exclusion. Chastity and celibacy apply mostly to women,” the German seminarian adds with a broad smile.

While the celibacy of priests remains in place, a gay priest will always receive a better welcome in the church than a straight priest. That’s a reality

A former seminarian who lives in Zurich explains his point of view.

“Essentially the church has always preferred gay priests to heterosexual priests. With its anti-gay circulars, it claims to be changing things a little, but you can’t change a reality with a circular!

“While the celibacy of priests remains in place, a gay priest will always receive a better welcome in the church than a straight priest. That’s a reality, and there’s nothing the church can do about it.”

The seminarians I have interviewed agree on another point: a heterosexual cannot feel completely at ease in a Catholic seminary, because – and I’m quoting the expressions they used – of “the looks”, the “special friendships”, the “bromances” the “boy-chasing”, and the “sensitivity”, “fluidity”, “tenderness” and “generalised homoerotic atmosphere” that emanates from it. Anyone who wasn’t a confirmed bachelor would be flummoxed.

And another seminarian adds, repeating a mantra that I have heard several times: “Jesus never once mentions homosexuality. If it’s such a terrible thing, why does Jesus not talk about it?”

After a pause, he observes: “Being in a seminary is a bit like being in Blade Runner: no one knows who is a human and who is a replicant. It’s an ambiguity that straights usually take a dim view of.”

According to lots of statements I have collected in the Roman pontifical universities, the double life of seminarians has evolved considerably over the last few years because of the internet and smart phones. A large proportion of those who went out at the dead of night looking for chance encounters or, in Rome, in clubs like Diabolo 23, K-Men’s Gay, the Bunker or the Vicious Club can now cruise from the comfort of their own home.

Due to apps like Grindr, Tinder or Hornet, and hook-up sites like GayRomeo (now PlanetRomeo), Scruff (for more mature men and “bears”), Daddyhunt (for those who like “daddies”), or Recon (for fetishists and “extreme” sexualities), they no longer need to move or to take too many risks.

Along with my researchers in Rome, I also discover the homosexuality of several seminarians, priests or curia bishops thanks to the magic of the internet.

Often they gave us their email addresses or mobile numbers out of politeness or complicity when we met in the Vatican. After we went on to record the information, quite innocently, in our Gmail address books or on our smart phones, different accounts and names associated with them appeared automatically on WhatsApp, Google+, LinkedIn or Facebook. Often pseudonyms!

My team and I have managed to prove that Grindr does its job every evening inside the Vatican State

Starting with these borrowed names, the double life of these seminarians, priests or curia bishops – certainly very discreet, but not geeky enough – emerged from these networking sites as if through the intervention of the Holy Spirit! (Here I am thinking of a dozen precise cases, and especially several monsignori whom we have already encountered in the course of this book.)

Today lots of them spend their evenings on GayRomeo, Tinder, Scruff or Venerabilis – but mostly on Grindr.

Often priests spot each other without meaning to, having discovered that another gay cleric is a few metres away. And my team and I have also managed to prove that Grindr does its job every evening inside the Vatican State.

On Facebook, another site used a lot for cruising, because of the diversity of its members, it is easy to spot gay priests or seminarians. This is true, for example, of several prelates that we followed in Rome: most of them were unfamiliar with the confidentiality protocols of the social network, and left their list of friends visible.

You only had to look at the account of a Roman gay well connected in the homosexual community of the city to determine from “friends in common” whether a priest was gay or not. A timeline need not contain a single gay message: the way Facebook works almost always gives gays away.

To escape this you need to have compartmentalised your life – using separate networks and never having shared the slightest personal information – to such an extent that it is almost impossible.

Smart phones and the internet are changing the lives of seminarians and priests for better or for worse.

Complete Article HERE!

The Most Talked About Non-Topic at the Vatican? Homosexuality

By Jason Horowitz and Elisabetta Povoledo

Called to the Vatican this week by Pope Francis to grapple with the crisis of child sexual abuse by clergy, nearly 200 leaders of the Roman Catholic Church sat for lectures on responsibility, accountability and transparency.

But privately, they kept raising one issue not on the agenda: homosexuality.

“We spoke of this,” Bishop Ricardo Ernesto Centellas Guzmán, the president of the Bolivian Bishops Conference, acknowledged on Thursday, the start of the extraordinary four-day meeting of bishops and other church leaders.

Yet homosexuality is exactly the topic the conference organizers had hoped to avoid, pointing to ample research finding no connection between homosexuality and pedophilia.

“The main issue is power,” said the Rev. Hans Zollner, a member of the Vatican’s child-protection commission and president of the Center for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Abuse “can be heterosexual or homosexual,” he added in an interview.

Still, some Catholic bishops and conservative church media outlets have continued to blame the clerical child sexual abuse crisis on homosexuality.

At the meeting, even as organizers and attendees pushed time and again to focus the discussions on pedophilia, the conflicting views about homosexuality within the church emerged as a distraction.

Jean-Claude Hollerich, the archbishop of Luxembourg and Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, moderated one of the meeting’s French-speaking discussion groups, which included leaders from some Francophone African nations.

He said on Saturday that some bishops kept returning to homosexuality as a cause for abuse because “some people have some models in their head and they will always keep to it.”

He said he and other bishops had sought to change their minds.

“I tell them the prime minister of my country is homosexual,” he said. “And he would never abuse children.”

Bishop Rochus Josef Tatamai, of Kavieng, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, said on Saturday that in his English-language group, homosexuality was “alluded to” during discussions about the training of new priests.

“The main issue is power,” said the Rev. Hans Zollner, center, a member of the Vatican’s child-protection commission and president of the Center for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University.

He suggested that “a desperate need for priests” in Europe and the United States had led seminaries to be lax in screening for candidates, some of whom turned out to be gay and abusers.

Pope Francis has clearly shifted the discussion, if not church doctrine, to a more inclusive position on homosexuality.

In 2013, he responded to questions about a supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican by saying, “Who am I to judge?” — a remark that liberals celebrated and conservatives lamented

But while Catholic Church teachings state that people with homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect,” it also calls deep-seated homosexual inclinations and acts “intrinsically disordered.”

Some conservative American prelates have sought to bring down Francis, seeing him as a protector of a gay subculture that is corrupting the clergy. Some have said his positions are eroding the church’s traditional values and planting the seeds of sexual abuse.

Bishops from Africa, Asia and Latin America say that in failing to connect homosexuality to sexual abuse, the Vatican is ignoring that a vast majority of abuse is perpetrated by priests on male victims.

This view has been echoed by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the church’s chief doctrinal watchdog until Pope Francis forced him out in 2017.

The cardinal told the German magazine Der Spiegel this month that “far more than 80 percent of the victims of sexual abuse under 18 years of age were young men in puberty or post-puberty.’’

And he argued that homosexuality should have been a central topic at the Vatican meeting this week.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, a favorite of Pope Francis and an organizer of the conference, said on Monday that it was not the case that “homosexual people are more prone to abuse children than straight people.”

Asked about Cardinal Müller’s remarks, Cardinal Cupich told reporters “it’s important to admit the fact” that the predominance of underage victims are male. But he pointed to landmark studies in the United States and Australia showing that homosexuality in itself is not a cause of child sex abuse, and that access to children is a major factor.

Each day at the meeting, reporters from conservative Catholic news outlets peppered the meeting’s organizers with questions about why they are dodging the topic of homosexuality.

Members of Ending Clergy Abuse, an organization of victims and their supporters, demonstrating Thursday in Rome.

Their short answer: because it is irrelevant.

Homosexuality has “nothing to do with the sexual abuse of minors,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the Vatican’s leading sex crimes investigator, said on Friday.

Still, leading conservatives and traditionalists persisted in their arguments.

Cardinal Raymond Burke of the United States and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller of Germany published an open letter to the presidents of bishops’ conferences representing various countries at the meeting, urging them to end their “conspiracy of silence” about the “plague of the homosexual agenda.”

And Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former papal ambassador to the United States who accused the pope in August of protecting abusive gay clerics and called for his resignation, argued on Thursday that it was fitting that the meeting’s opening that day coincided with the feast of St. Peter Damian, an 11th-century monk who fought against “sins of sodomy” in the church.

(Some church historians cautioned the archbishop that the saint was perhaps not the best model, as he had also denounced as immoral a Byzantine princess for introducing the practice of eating with a fork.)

The conference coincided with what appeared to be the strategically timed release of “In the Closet of the Vatican,” a gossipy book by the French author Frédéric Martel, who characterized the Vatican as “one of the biggest gay communities in the world.”

Those who attack Pope Francis “are very homophobic and for the large part live a double homosexual life,” Mr. Martel said Wednesday at a news conference in Rome, adding that as a gay man, he was able to determine who in the Vatican was gay.

The book’s release was criticized by advocates for abuse victims.

“Let’s be clear,” said Peter Saunders, a Briton who was forced off the Vatican’s child protection panel for criticizing it as toothless. “There is no link between people who are gay and people who abuse children. And I think that that is a lie that has to be hammered into the ground

Estimates of how many priests are gay vary widely, but at a minimum, it is considered to be a significant percentage. One priest in Florida recently told The New York Times that a third of Catholic clergy members were gay, a third were straight, and a third remained a mystery — even to themselves.

Some advocates for gay equality in the church said their message seemed to have gotten through to church leaders.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Maryland, a Catholic organization that supports gay men and lesbians, said in Rome that he was pleasantly surprised at the conference to find homosexuality “debunked as a cause” of abuse. He was hoping the Vatican “would give a more definitive, official statement from the pope to that effect.”

But among the bishops in the room with Francis, the issue was not exactly settled.

Entering the conference, Bishop Gonzalo de Villa y Vásquez of Guatemala said, “I think it can be a legitimate question whether or not there is a link between homosexuality and abuses.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church is bursting with secrets. Investigating one will unravel them all.

Pope Francis in Rome on Feb. 14.

By Garry Wills

The New York Times published an extraordinary article this week based on interviews with two dozen gay Catholic priests and seminarians in 13 states. “Out” men and women today are often widely admired, but most of the interviews had to be conducted anonymously because the Vatican still treats homosexuality as “objectively disordered” — a policy that persists even though the representation of gay men in the priesthood is higher, probably far higher, than in the general population.

The relevant catechism about sexuality does not condemn people with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” just those who act on those tendencies. In other words, you can be gay so long as you don’t do anything about it. The Times article rightly presents this distinction as a trial for the priests involved — one of the last major throwbacks to the era of “the love that dare not speak its name” (as Oscar Wilde’s partner, Lord Alfred Douglas, put it). But I wondered how the church’s policy on homosexuality affects men and women, as well as boys and girls, who are not priests.

The gay priest is required, generally, to uphold the official teaching of his church and of his superiors, making him a collaborator in the suppression of his gay brothers and sisters outside the clergy. In this way, without intending to, the victimized become victimizers. How does that play out, to take an example, in the confessional? If a penitent confesses homosexual activity to a gay priest, does the priest channel God’s forgiveness of a sin that he does not himself consider a sin? This is just one of the many ways in which we Catholics, if we refrain from criticizing this particular stance of our church, contribute to the persecution of the LGBTQ community.

The deepest irony is that a priest who is required to go against his nature is told that he must do this because of “natural law.” The church’s quaint theory of natural law is that the first biological use of an activity is the only permissible use of that activity. If the biological use of sex is for procreation, any other use is “against nature.”

The absurdity of this view is made clear by considering the first biological use for eating: the sustenance of life. If every other use of nutrition is against nature, then any diet beyond what is consumed for life-maintenance is a sin — in other words, no wedding cakes, no champagne toasts. Yet the church continues to adhere to so-called natural law because it underpins doctrine on all sexual matters, including the condemnations of abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization and stem-cell research.

Given the stakes in these and other matters, the ban on gay sex involves a larger “church teaching” than the single matter of homosexuality.

Priests and bishops who cover up male homosexuality are prone to a mutual blackmail with those who commit and conceal heterosexual acts by the clergy — sometimes involving women, including nuns, who have been victimized by priests. The Times’s portrait of gay priests was followed by a powerful Feb. 18 article revealing that the church has internal policies for dealing with priests who father children. The Vatican confirmed, apparently for the first time, that a priest with progeny is encouraged to ask for release from his ministry “to assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively to the child” — there being no requirement in canon law that a priest perform this basic act of love for his offspring and the child’s mother.

Secrecy in one clerical area intersects with secrecy in others. There is an implicit pledge that “your secret is safe with my secret.” If there are gay nuns — and why would there not be? — that adds another strand to the interweavings of concealment.

The trouble with any culture that maintains layer upon layer of deflected inspections is that, when so many people are guarding their own secrets, the deep examination of an institution becomes nearly impossible. The secrecies are too interdependent. Truly opening one realm of secrecy and addressing it may lead to an implosion of the entire system. That is the real problem faced this week by Pope Francis and the church leaders he has summoned from around the world for a conference at the Vatican to consider the labyrinthine and long-standing scandals of clerical sex abuse.

Complete Article HERE!

Dying Irish priest writes celibacy is a sin against God and nature

Father Daniel O’Leary.

An Irish-born priest spoke out against celibacy in the priesthood in the final days of his life.

A priest born in County Kerry has used his final words to question the compulsory celibacy undertaken by priests in the Catholic Church. Fr Daniel O’Leary died in England on January 21, 2019, but used his final column with international Catholic weekly The Tablet to voice his dissent to the requirement.

O’Leary, a well-known spiritual writer, was diagnosed with cancer last June, and wrote the piece, which was published posthumously, so as to be “free of fear and bitterness, and full of love and desire, as I step up for the final inspection.”

“I now believe, with all my heart, that compulsory celibacy is a kind of sin, an assault against God’s will and nature,” O’Leary stated. 

“I’m just pointing out that one of the fall-outs of mandatory celibate life is the violence it does to a priest’s humanity, and the wounds that it leaves on his ministry.

“Please remember, I’m only recalling the memories, convictions and awakenings that are filling my soul during these ever-so-strange final days and nights,” he added, acknowledging that some within the church would regard his words as traitorous.

Describing clericalism as “a collective malaise,” O’Leary continued to write: “The enemy, we were warned, back in the 1950s, was a failure in prayer; falling in love was the cancer; suppression, sublimation and confession were the cure. Emotion was the threat; detachment was the safeguard; becoming too human was the risk; the subtle carapace of clericalism was the precaution.

“[It] keeps vibrant, abundant life at bay; it quarantines us for life from the personal and communal expression of healing relationships, and the lovely grace of the tenderness which Pope Francis is trying to restore to the hearts of all God’s people.”

Father Daniel O’Leary was born in Rathmore, Co Kerry in 1937. He trained to be a priest in All Hallows College, Dublin, before moving to England.

An award-winning author of 12 books, he was a regular contributor to The Tablet, The Furrow and other publications, and held Masters degrees in theology, spirituality and religious education.

Complete Article HERE!

Why LGBT Catholics want to change attitudes in Italy

 

Coming out can be challenging for young people across the globe – but in Italy many young Catholics are struggling with negative attitudes from both their communities and their churches.

While some churches offer support for the LGBT community, others are still asking young people to see a psychologist or stop attending Church events. Sometimes even celibacy is expected.

Giulia is in the committee for an informal LGBT Catholic association that supports people up and down the country. Listen to her chat with her friend and fellow group member Edoardo about the challenges they’ve faced.

You can find out more about issues concerning young people and the Catholic Church by listening to the World Service’s Heart and Soul programme here.