Andrew Sullivan’s weekly trifecta. Part 1: Homosexuality, hypocrisy and immorality in the Vatican

February 24, 2019 • 9:30 am

I have to say that I’m really enjoying Andrew Sullivan’s weekly columns in New York Magazine. This new one has three absorbing bits, all of which are worth reading. (I’ll post about all of them if I have time today.)

The first is about the homosexuality that’s rife in the Vatican. Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay, but the Vatican’s homosexuality is hypocritical in view of the Church’s stand on homosexuality, and it’s not only bred corruption, but also clearly promoted the pedophilia of many priests and led to the coverups at higher levels.

Read and weep.

Martel, the author of the book that Sullivan discusses below, is gay, and not only do the Catholics in the Vatican readily tell him about the sexual morass there, but hit on Martel himself. It’s astonishing how open they are.

Here’s an excerpt of the Vatican stuff, but read all of Sullivan’s column:

I spent much of this week reading and trying to absorb the new and devastating book by one Frédéric Martel on the gayness of the hierarchy at the top of the Catholic Church, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. It’s a bewildering and vast piece of reporting — Martel interviewed no fewer than “41 cardinals, 52 bishops and monsignori, 45 apostolic nuncios, secretaries of nunciatures or foreign ambassadors, 11 Swiss Guards and over 200 Catholic priests and seminarians.” He conducted more than 1,500 interviews over four years, is quite clear about his sources, and helps the reader weigh their credibility. He keeps the identity of many of the most egregiously hypocritical cardinals confidential, but is unsparing about the dead.

The picture Martel draws is jaw-dropping. Many of the Vatican gays — especially the most homophobic — treat their vows of celibacy with an insouciant contempt. Martel argues that many of these cardinals and officials have lively sex lives, operate within a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture, constantly hit on young men, hire prostitutes, throw chem-sex parties, and even pay for sex with church money. How do we know this? Because, astonishingly, they tell us.

. . . Yes, there are times when Martel overdoes it a bit. But it’s completely understandable. As a secular gay journalist, not hostile to the church, he walked into the Vatican and was simply staggered by its obvious gayness. No gay neighborhood has existed like this in the West since the 1980s.

. . . The revelations keep coming, page after page. For example: Martel explains how two of John Paul II’s favorite cardinals — whose nicknames within the Vatican are Platinette (after a drag queen) and La Mongolfiera — set up an elaborate and elite prostitution service that continued through the papacy of Benedict XVI, and was financed from the Vatican coffers. We know this through police records from the eventual criminal proceedings, where the actual ringleaders remained anonymous and without charges, because of the Vatican’s diplomatic immunity.

Sullivan goes on to recount some of the incidents described in Martel’s book, and it’s pretty horrifying—even worse and more hypocritical than I ever suspected. And yet Sullivan is still a Catholic! Go figure. He agonizes, yet he still goes to Mass and prays. Why? What kind of God would allow this kind of behavior to take place in his very own church: the true religion, or so Sullivan thinks and professes?

To wit:

As for me, someone who has wrestled with the question of homosexuality and Catholicism for much of my adult life, this book has, to be honest, been gutting. All the painful, wounding Vatican documents on my “objective disorder” that I have tried to parse and sincerely engage … I find out they were written, in part, by tormented gay men, partly to deflect from their own nature. Everything I was taught growing up — to respect the priests and hierarchs, to trust them, to accept their moral authority — is in tatters. To realize that the gay closet played a part in enabling the terrible, unimaginable abuse of the most vulnerable is a twist my psyche is having a hard time absorbing. Reading this long book, I found myself falling asleep not because it was boring. Au contraire. In some way, my psyche just couldn’t take any more. My mind and body kept shutting down.

I went to Mass last Sunday to pray about this. . .

Mass? Prayer? I can understand Sullivan meditating and thinking about this, but why does he have to do it in a Catholic church? And, unless I miss my guess, in Mass you have to do more than just sit there and pray; you have to do genuflections and professions and sometimes nom a wafer.

I really cannot fathom why Sullivan not only remains a Catholic, but why he still believes in God. It no longer surprises me when a smart and thoughtful person believes in religious hooey, but to believe in religious hooey that makes a mockery of one’s own sexuality and of the Church itself, and leads to the sexual abuse of children? It makes no sense. It’s almost like a Jew remaining a member of the Nazi party after he discovers what it’s about. You may think that’s exaggerated, but Sullivan’s own Church has damned him to the Eternal Crematorium for practicing homosexual acts.

Perhaps Sullivan has explained his continuing Catholicism elsewhere, but I haven’t seen it. In truth, my emotions about this are not only uncomprehension, but deep pity. The man has wrestled with this issue for so long, and yet his god has not answered.

Andrew, if you’re reading this, please explain. You seem rational and I have a lot of respect for your intelligence, your critical analysis, and your writing. Yet you continue to adhere to a superstition that’s not only unevidenced, but positively malign. The god you believe in has allowed your church to behave this way, to demonize gays, and to molest children. Surely you don’t think that all this perfidy will be made right in heaven, do you? Isn’t it easier to give up belief in this malignant Catholic god and just embrace humanism? We will welcome you, and we’re not a den of pederasts—nor do we condemn homosexuality or consider gay sex a grave sin that will damn you forever. There will be nothing more for you to agonize about if you just let go of the Church.


69 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan’s weekly trifecta. Part 1: Homosexuality, hypocrisy and immorality in the Vatican

  1. I’ve seen Sullivan comments about his remaining a Catholic (although I don’t remember exactly where). They were, as one might expect, incoherent. He is a rational person until faith enters the room. Then…

    1. I agree with that. He can produce really good writing and occasionally totally loses it, which can be amusing. He will honestly admit his errors, notably over the Iraq war. But the religion thing seems to be an inbuilt blind spot. He has written about it a lot – much of this on the dish archive (which is huge, many pages a day of blogging over several years)

      There is also his extended series of communications with Sam Harris now posted on beliefnet

      Which at one point leaves Harris saying “You have simply declared your faith to be immune to rational challenge. As you didn’t come to believe in God by taking any state of the world into account, no possible state of the world could put His existence in doubt. This is the very soul of dogmatism.”

      After 34 pages Sullivan signs off saying “You may wonder why my faith endures.”

      Which is pretty much where we came in!

      1. I have to believe he must have been indoctrinated at his mother’s knee. The neural patterns burned so deeply he simply can’t get past it.

    2. We see this at times. I was watching this interview with Francis Collins many years ago. When talking about molecular genetics he was very good at describing things that prioritized accuracy, and he made clear what statements were to be taken in a qualified way. I remember being very impressed and thinking ‘wow, what an articulate and careful thinker’.
      But then the issue of god and religion came up, and I swear it was like watching his head rotate 180o so that a different Collins face was looking out. He then proceeded to say a lot of unsupportable nonsense.

      1. The phenomenon does suggest a form of multiple personality disorder. The scientific mind on the one hand, and a completely other, irrational, intuitive mind on the other.

  2. I read a lengthy book not long ago that was mostly about Catholic finance and the corrupt work of the Vatican bank. Can’t remember the name but it also went into the homosexual nature of the church which is very large as Sullivan details. The night life just outside the Vatican is the hangout for many of the “fathers” who work there.

    I do not think the Pope or any others high in the church are capable of fixing their problems. It is built in to the system. Even if this church opened up to letting women become priest they also need to allow married people to become the rule. For those in charge, this goes against their fun and games.

      1. Thanks for posting this. I hadn’t known of Posner’s book and am going to look for it. Way back in the late 20th century when John Paul II reigned, I read a bunch of books about the Vatican and Vatican finances and I pertucularly remember a book about the Roberto Calvi scandal and his subsequent “suicide.” He was dubbed “God’s Banker” — don’t know if that’s the first time that term was used.

        Anyone with an interest in Vatican shenanigans should read the memoirs of John Burchard on the notorious 15th century Borgia Pope Alexander VI and his court (including Lucretia). That stuff has been going on for a long old time, and even well before Alex VI, back to the early papacies.

        1. Another really good read is “ The Entity” by Eric Frattini, five centuries of secret Vatican espionage. There is an English translation from the original Spanish version by Dick Cluster.

          1. The Church seems to have an endless supply of the most extraordinary depravity. Good for writers of books.

        2. Another good one is “Papal Sin” by Garry Wills. But he also wrote a book since called “Why I remain a Catholic” or something to that effect.

          1. Hmmmm…another Catholic who learned at his mother’s knee. Lot’s of brainwashing in Catholicism. It’s sad that an intelligent person can have a sizeable quadrant of his brain running on something like heroin.

  3. Perhaps Sullivan remains a Catholic for the same reason Americans did not give up on their form of government after Nixon and Watergate, and hopefully, after Trump. The attitude is that the institution and its ideals are not inherently corrupt, just the people who are running it a certain time. Get rid of the wicked, replace them with the good who will clear up the mess , and the institution will function just fine. Thus Sullivan can rationalize his belief in the tenets of the Catholic Church.

    1. I actually think Sullivan’s religiosity is far more understandable than that of those in the clergy preaching hellfire for homosexuality out of one side of their mouth and whispering propositions to prostitutes on the other. Whether or not one believes in religion or not aside, for the moment just take it as axiomatic that a person does. If that is the case, it makes sense that a person would act as Sullivan has – to make clear that he does NOT see his sexuality as a sin, to be open about the issue and strive to know God and to wait for all things to be worked out in the afterlife.

      The clergy who are hypocritically engaged in terrifying vulnerable homosexuals – including teens at risk for suicide – are like anti-Vaxxers who secretly sneak their kids in for as many vaccinations as possible. I mean – why?? It would be like telling everyone you meet that you hate broccoli and that it causes cancer, only to go home and eat pounds of it. Why go to all the trouble for such a blatant self-contradiction? The more sympathetic explanation, I think, is that either those clergy members are acting out some kind of trauma stemming from being condemned for who they are, or an unintentional system of incentives has grown too big to control over many years (those who engage in what they condemn are considered more trustworthy because they can essentially be blackmailed, those who condemn it more loudly are also considered more likely to keep the mutual secret, and so on.) The more chilling one is that perhaps this group of people knew but didn’t care what they were doing – they had power, prestige, access to the life they wanted without moral condemnation from their families, and whoever they traumatized were collateral damage. I very much hope that is not the case, but at any rate, I think Sullivan’s actions are much more in line with those of an earnest believer.

    2. I think you’re absolutely right. One doesn’t give up and write off a substantial chunk of one’s life just because flaws have been found in the group you belong to. You try to fix it.

      I’m not suddenly going to stop being a lefty because SJW’s. 😉


      1. I think that’s a false analogy.

        “Lefty” doesn’t involve membership in a highly organized sodality. You might get away with comparing being a “lefty” to being religiously inclined, but membership in the Catholic Church involves active support of an organization. Money changes hands. At some level you agree to obey the orders of the hierarchy, subject to punishment for failing to do so.

        I grow tired of “good” Catholic friends taking refuge in the “it is my club that these bad apples are ruining…. I’ll stay and fight” argument. I find it cheap and lazy. I can’t help but wonder if there is any horror that would motivate them to exit the club.

  4. When someone has faith in faith, evidence against become challenges and struggles for.

    I mean, look at the analogies the faithful use when talking about the glories of faith. Loving a partner, climbing a mountain. And look at the banal examples they use when trying to make faith seem unavoidable. It’s no different than provisionally accepting a strong scientific conclusion though it might be mistaken — or expecting the sun to come up tomorrow.

    They don’t think of using analogies which involve people stubbornly sticking to a wrong conclusion, or supporting a criminal beyond all reason. No, it’s all a positive frame involving hope, trust, and standing by principles. Once the method is internalized, it’s hard to shake the idea that you’re being *tested* in some way.

  5. Sullivan had an on-line debate with Sam Harris a couple of years back and did his best, I assume, in defense of his faith. His best, however, was no where near good enough. It was pretty pathetic. Sam did a great job in these long exchanges in pushing Sullivan in just the right directions. I came away with a new and improved respect for Sam’s acumen.

  6. We now know, from Martel’s book and similar reporting, why the regime of cardinals and archbishops makes such a big fuss about retaining the official precept of clerical celibacy: it is a cover.

    So, the decrees of God’s representative on earth reflect the personal interests of particular persons. What a great surprise! Could it be that the whole enterprise of official religion has similar properties?

    Poor Andrew Sullivan’s “faith” problem shows the power of childlhood brainwashing.
    It seems that one kind of mumbo-jumbo or another can be installed in a child’s sense of self so powerfully as to be irreversible, at least in some cases. Psychologists could fruitfully investigate the reasons for this irreversibility in some cases but not others.

  7. “It’s almost like a Jew remaining a member of the Nazi party after he discovers what it’s about.” I do not think that is exaggerated, I think that is very much to the point.

    1. Another example – How the Trump followers continue after all that has occurred just in the past 2 or 3 years. The brain washing continues and those Russians do a pretty good job as well.

  8. This is remarkable, but then you think about the Vatican and how they all dress and it just makes sense. The ostentatious opulence of the Vatican itself, the tendency toward flamboyant clothes (just look at those Swiss Guards, could someone come up with a gayer uniform than that without just making it drag?), and the extravagant ceremonies and gestures. The whole organization is flaming!

    But seriously, at some point, the Catholic Church will need to address this and many other things, and I think that they’ll accept homosexuality within the next decade or, at the very least, remove vows of celibacy. And I think the next Pope will be a real reformer. Like Scientology, the internet and modern movement movement in the Anglo world toward more progressive ideals has removed all secrecy from the Church and started to push them in a different direction. They simply can’t hide things anymore, and the confidence of their flock in Anglo culture is plummeting apace. Their hand will eventually be forced (hopefully metaphorically, and not up something).

    1. I’m not so sure about this. If you saw footage of the recent meetings to address child abuse, you saw almost 100 % old white guys who are probably as reactionary as Ratzinger. I can imagine that the next pope will be as right wing as any in history.

      1. And yet, the newest Pope is far more progressive (not to say that he is, in fact, progressive) than Ratzinger. The fact that they’re old white guys doesn’t mean they can’t see what’s happening around them.

        1. Like his even more progressive predecessor in the late 1950s and early 1960s — John XXIII — Frankie the First is something of an accidental, caretaker pope. And like Juan-Two-Three, he is surrounded by a treacherous, reactionary Vatican bureaucracy and college of cardinals looking to undermine him at every turn — holdovers from Pius XII in the case of John, from JPII and Benedict in the case of Francis.

          Like John, Francis is trying to drag the Catholic Church into the 21st 20th 18th century. The Church, however, is like an ocean-going freighter in that it turns very slowly, where it turns at all.

          1. “…trying to drag the Catholic Church into the 21st 20th 18th century”

            I give the Church a bit more credit than this (not something I love to do). They may be wrong on a lot of things, but at least they stay mostly up to date on science. It’s generally social policies where they’re stuck in the 20th century.

    2. ”the next Pope will be a real reformer”

      I doubt it. Popes are elected by cardinals. There aren’t enough “uncorupt” cardinals to elect a real reformer.

    3. The gay campiness of Holy Mother Church presumably goes back centuries, and is thus imbued with Tradition. Of course, the medieval Papacy was full of heterosexual relations as well, with Cardinals who were illegit sons of Popes and so on. This, together with the historic gay campiness, defined a Vatican culture that sure upheld Diversity!

      All of the campiness plus the Church’s stupefying level of hypocrisy eventually gave rise to the Protestant Reformation in reaction, with its iconoclasm, austerity, and drab clothes. One might wonder whether the absence of any Reformation in Islam is due precisely to the absence of an extravaganza comparable to the Vatican? Perhaps the flaming Vatican had, unwittingly, a positive result.

    4. I remember a Monty Python sketch with cardinals and bishops, etc, in their fine robes and lace, doing a dialogue in the most extreme stereotypical gay manner. They absolutely could not do this sketch today! But it seems prescient now too.

  9. I really cannot fathom why Sullivan not only remains a Catholic, but why he still believes in God.

    Almost certainly, Sullivan’s is belief in belief. Here he is on W.H. Auden (February 23, 2018 in New York:

    But Auden’s religion makes more and more sense to me: “He had no literal belief in miracles or deities and thought that all religious statements about God must be false in a literal sense but might be true in metaphoric ones. He felt himself commanded to an absolute obligation — which he knew he could never fulfill — to love his neighbor as himself … he valued ancient liturgy, not for its magic or beauty, but because its timeless language and ritual was a ‘link between the dead and the unborn,’ a stay against the complacent egoism that favors whatever is contemporary with ourselves.”

    Does that sound like literal belief in God to you?

    1. Easy to determine. Just find out if he believes the resurrection actually happened. I am willing to lay money on his answer being “yes”.

    2. I don’t understand the term “metaphorical truth,” which I believe was coined by Bret Weinstein.

      As far as this goes re religious matters, I would call it “metaphysical truth.”

  10. Sullivan has the God gene. It’s the only reasonable explanation. He sees how wonderful life is and thinks that the only way it could exist is if some God made it so. Silly human!

      1. If the devil makes him do it – then it is no free will either….

        But there is an interesting point here: if the devil is responsible for continuing the faith in the Catholic Church, then the devil works for the benefit of the Church, or should we say: on behalf of the church? That would mean: The devil, that is the church…

        1. Right, no free will on either count.

          Some Protestants still see the Pope as Satan incarnate and the RC Church as the Whore of Babylon.

    1. “The 70-year-old cardinal [is] sitting on an asparagus-green throne twice as large as he is, surrounded by silvery drapery. He wears a fluorescent yellow mitre in the shape of a tall Tower of Pisa, and long turquoise gloves…”
      That Auntie Mame?

  11. When the sins of the Church are revealed, an important part of the Catholic indoctrination is to immediately say “the Church is both saint and sinful”. I heard that many times when growing up Catholic and it’s very effective because it’s usually followed by pointing out that many people that talk about the sins of Church do so in order to destroy it.

  12. Catholics think suffering is good. Perhaps Sullivan in some demented way thinks his own suffering over Catholic hypocrisy is also good. I’m sure after praying long and hard in his favorite church, he’ll figure it all out. Joking aside, it is abominable what religion can do to an otherwise sound mind.

    1. ” it is abominable what religion can do to an otherwise sound mind.”

      Just look from the opposite side, because there are advantages here: Religion helps man to balance cognitive dissonances without the need to use his own mind. This makes life easier for many people and this may be the reason why they remain in the bosom of the Church.

      1. I don’t know about religion and cognitive dissonance. I see it more as willful ignorance usually caused by childhood brainwashing.

  13. … in Mass you have to do more than just sit there and pray; you have to do genuflections and professions and sometimes nom a wafer.

    During Mass, there are times when a Catholic attendee is expected to stand, sit, or kneel, but it’s not an enforced requirement. The elderly and infirm, for example, generally do not do so.

    Nor is anyone required to take communion at Mass; indeed, those with a “mortal sin” on their souls are prohibited in principle from doing so. Hell, there are instances in which reactionary priests and bishops have refused communion to progressive Catholic politicians who’ve taken a public stand supporting abortion rights. See, e.g., here.

    1. I’ve been to a Catholic service (which included a wedding, IIRC, I think that was why I was there) and I was wondering what would happen when Communion came up.

      Well, they just asked those who wished to receive communion to come forward in their own time; which neatly solved the problem of non-Catholic wedding guests. Nobody stood out for NOT participating. I thought that was handled well.


  14. The later chapter in Hitch’s God is Not Great do a brilliant job of describing how the Church maintains political power over and effectively possesses individuals from the moment of birth.

    After I’d lived in Germany for 15 years, the Church Tax Office suddenly contacted me and demanded to know if I had been baptised. I told them that I didn’t know, so they said they would check their baptism records in Australia, and if yes, they would claim 5% tax retrospectively for the last 15 years. What a sense of entitlement these people have.

    It’s beyond me why anyone would remain in the church. They can still pray and believe in god. And if they miss all the other stuff they can join the mafia.

      1. Thanks for asking. This was a few years ago, and I didn’t hear back from them. I was quite certain that I wasn’t baptised, but thought it would be interesting to see how they would deal with the whole process.

        The form they sent me was extremely manipulative — asking for information without letting on what the implications are.

        The law was originally introduced by a certain A. Hitler.

  15. I like Sullivan and enjoy his writing. I’ve read much of his writing and listened to most of his debates and my recollection is that his commitment to the Catholic Church (an organization that is surely indefensible at this point) is highly personal. He said he’s known many close and dear friends who died from HIV/AIDS and seen or experienced moments so transcendent that it convinced him that God was involved.

  16. The real insidiousness of religion, and especially Catholicism, is the way that otherwise sensible people can continue to follow it for all of its egregious faults. It baffles me why people like Monica Grady, the British planetary scientist, continues to be a practising Catholic.

  17. Andrew Sullivan and other very smart Christians (e.g. Francis Collins) are public examples of that extensive phenomenon of how someone’s thinking turns upside down when it comes to their religion.

    You can speak to an otherwise intelligent person, have a perfectly rational conversation about any number of subjects where they adduce norms of reason such as consistency, logical coherency, appropriate application of skepticism and doubt. And then as soon as the subject turns to their own religion, it’s like witnessing someone have a stroke right in front of you.

    Suddenly all those norms of reason get tossed in the air willy nilly, up is down, down is up, and you are left wondering how to even make reasoned contact with someone who has special-leaded intellectual consistency out of existence.

    This frankly alarming phenomenon is one of the things that got me interested in investigating religion in the first place.
    Something that has that magnitude of effect on people’s ability to think clearly seems an important area to tackle.

    (Of course, it’s not as simple as the idea it’s religion that causes all the confusion one hears coming from the religious. There will be all manner of explanations from various angles – someone can come to believe religion by first being confused about things in the first place. But unfortunately they enter a terrible feedback mechanism, where religion only re-enforces, amplifies and adds to cognitive errors.

  18. Catholics will not change as long as all the rules are made by the cardinals. That is a closed system. Pressure from members could change that but it would not be easy.

  19. Why doesn’t Sullivan leave? Humans are easy to indoctrinate.. At least the FFRF continues the fight against the corrupt Church with Chicago billboards.
    FFRF’s ‘Quit the Catholic Church’ ad campaign comes to Chicago, despite censors
    After encountering print censorship in Chicago, FFRF is fighting back by placing prominent billboards all over Chicago, including a 20-by-60-foot sign on the Kennedy Expressway west of Montrose stating, “Value Children over Dogma: It’s Time to Leave the Catholic Church.” The powerful image depicts a small schoolgirl hiding her face. That message will go up in February for the entire month.

    1. Good for them. Similar organizations in Canada have had trouble running ads because they are supposedly “divisive”. (And yet running anti-abortion ads, and “Who was Hussein?” ads are ok.)

  20. I’m a member of FFRF and anyone who values the ever more endangered separation of church and state and holding religion accountable for its crimes should consider joining. With the current Supreme Court, the situation is bound to get worse. FFRF is a small organization that has proven to be the most effective in this fight. It could use more funding. I wrote them into my will for 2 million dollars.

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