So, it seems there really are gay priests in the upper echelons of the Vatican hierarchy. At least that’s what Pope Francis reportedly told a group of Latin American prelates in a private audience June 6.
The remarks, which were made off-the-cuff and were not meant for the general public, were first published Tuesday in Spanish on the Chilean website Reflexión y Liberación, sourced to the participants in the audience who allegedly spilled the beans on the pope’s address. The comments were then translated and published in English on Rorate Caeli, a popular blog among the religious set. "In the Curia there are holy people, truly holy people,” Francis reportedly told the Latin American delegation. “But there is also a current of corruption, also there is, it is true … They speak of a 'gay lobby,' and that is true, it is there.”
Gay priests in the Vatican are not exactly a new revelation. Allegations of a powerful “gay lobby” in the Vatican’s governing body known as the Roman Curia have been floating around Rome for years. There have been ample examples of priests in compromising positions dating back to 2010 when Carmello Abbate, an undercover reporter for Panorama magazine, caught priests strutting around in panties and fornicating on church property with a hidden camera. He painted a shocking portrait of how priests in Rome blatantly disobey their vows of celibacy, complete with rumors of steamy Turkish baths where top-ranking cardinals and prelates met up for some not-so-holy horseplay.
The impact of the gay lobby, and rumors that high-ranking prelates allegedly put pressure and blackmailed some of the gay group, reportedly troubled Pope Benedict XVI in the days before he retired. Last year when his butler was on trial for leaking his private papers to an Italian journalist, Benedict ordered a parallel clergy-led investigation to try to get to the bottom of the scandal and to find out if anyone was assisting the butler with his dirty work. In December 2012, the three-cardinal commission tasked with sleuthing for the truth presented Benedict with a two-volume red-covered secret dossier that supposedly outlined a variety of unholy business at the Holy See, including the gay lobby. Benedict reportedly locked up the dossier in the papal apartments for the next pope to deal with.
Since then Vatican experts have argued whether the dossier and its contents about gay priests was the real reason Benedict resigned. “It seems a stretch that a gay lobby would have caused Benedict to resign,” John Allen, Vatican expert and senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, told The Daily Beast last February when Benedict resigned. In a column published on Wednesday, Allen cautioned that there was no indication that “here's no reason to believe now that Francis is on the cusp of launching an anti-gay witch hunt.”
On Wednesday the Vatican was quick to distance itself from the pope’s remarks. Father Federico Lombardi, chief spokesman for the pope, said that because the comments were made in a private audience, the Vatican had no official statement to give. The event was not recorded, and the members of the Congregation for Latin American and Caribbean Religious, to whom the pope made the comments, reportedly told reporters what the pope said without the his permission to release the contents of his address. The congregation has since issued a statement regretting that the contents of the pope’s message made it to the press and distancing itself from quoting the pope. “It is clear that based on this one cannot attribute singular expressions to the Holy Father with certainty, but just a general sense,” according to the statement.
Semantics aside, the fact that Francis was willing to talk about the gay lobby at all most likely means that he is already thinking of doing something about it. In his first 100 days of his papacy, he has shunned the status quo and opted for transparency in his actions, speaking unscripted on a number of occasions about the need to stop the corruption and reform the Vatican’s governing body. He assigned an eight-cardinal papal posse of reform-minded church leaders from across the world to help him with tough reforms he says are needed in the Vatican bank and Roman Curia. He has also won favor among Catholics for focusing on poverty and shunning the opulence the popes before him have enjoyed, choosing to live in common guesthouse inside Vatican City instead of the lavish papal apartments. He also says he will stay in Rome this summer, like so many who cannot afford vacations, and not escape the heat at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo in the foothills outside Rome.
If Francis’s reference to problematic gay lobby was meant as a warning shot, it worked. “We will have to see what we can do,” he was quoted as saying in reference to the problem. No doubt many of the Vatican’s governing elite are wondering just what he means by that.