French author Frederic Martel’s book ‘In The Closet Of The Vatican’ in light of French investigation showing Catholic Church had 3000 abusers and 300,000 victims in France since 1950s

Newcastle Herald [Newcastle, Australia]

October 10, 2021

By Ian Kirkwood

IT should be a shock, but it’s not.

On Tuesday, the French Catholic Church received a 2500-page report from an independent commission, detailing the abuse of an estimated 330,000 children over 70 years by 3000 Catholic offenders, two-thirds of them priests.

It should make more waves than it has, but COVID hogs the headlines.

And it’s not a shock because we have read this story before. Repeatedly. In France as in dozens of other jurisdictions that have looked into this sad phenomenon, priests have taken to abusing children. Sometimes girls, but overwhelmingly boys.

You will recall that Julia Gillard credited our esteemed former colleague, Joanne McCarthy, as the driving force for a Royal Commission.

I sat with Joanne as we reported the Newcastle chapters of the inquiry.

The Anglicans were no angels but the Catholic insistence on clerical celibacy all but channelled the priesthood towards trouble.

I’ve got a bit of a thing about churches.

If I had to tick a box, it would be atheist, but there’s a bookcase behind me with more than 100 titles on religion. Mostly Christianity. Conventional church histories, the Dead Sea scrolls, feminist reappraisals of Mary Magdalene, the historical Jesus, the mad popes of history. And so on.

On the mysteries of human belief, I’ve got truly catholic (as in “all-embracing”) tastes.

Each book takes me somewhere new, and just before COVID shut our libraries I spotted a 2019 book titled In The Closet Of The Vatican. Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy, by French writer Frederic Martel.

The French title – simply Sodoma – doesn’t mess about either. The release of the French abuse report seemed a good opportunity to write about it.

At 555 pages, plus another 300 pages at (which I haven’t read), it takes some digestion.

Martel is openly gay.

Previous books include The Pink And The Black: Homosexuals in France since 1968 and Global Gay: How Gay Culture Is Changing The World.

Aged 53, this Sorbonne-educated sometime diplomat, prime ministerial adviser and visiting scholar knows his subject matter.

He has friends – and while he doesn’t labour the point, lovers – inside the church.

In The Closet recounts, in forensic detail, a four-year investigation that took Martel to more than 30 countries, meeting a cavalcade of characters, many of them high-ranking church officials, all the way to the cardinals of the Roman Curia who help the Pope of the day run the Holy See and the Catholic Church.

Some requested anonymity but others put their name to remarkably candid interviews on the record.

In his epilogue, Martel admits to surprise at the “secrets” he was entrusted with.

“Why did these men, who were used to being silent, agree to break the omerta?” Martel writes.

“What they told me was unsayable for a long time. It would have been difficult to publish a book like this 20 or even only 10 years ago.

“For a long time, the ways of the Lord remained, if I may say so, impenetrable.”

What these men did was to tell Martel about their love lives, their sex lives. And about what they knew – or suspected – about the affairs of others.

Martel’s thesis, essentially, is that the Catholic Church is an essentially homosexual organisation, and that the more “rigid” a cleric has been, publicly, on gay issues, the more likely he is to be gay himself.

I’m not going to “out” anyone here.

That’s not the point. (Yes Cardinal George Pell is mentioned, but mainly for the hostility he provoked in other Curia members by trying to reform the Vatican’s finances.)

In Australia, the Royal Commission insisted on separating criminal paedophilia from what they described – if not so directly – as legitimate or legal homosexuality.

I well remember one session involving a cache of male homosexual magazines found in a church rectory. Once it was determined the models were over the age of consent, the porn was considered irrelevant, because it was not illegal.

That incident was in 1998. But NSW only decriminalised homosexual acts in 1984. And the Royal Commission went back well before that. Decades back.

Back to the days when, as Martel writes, homosexual men could join the church to hide their orientation and avoid the social pressure to marry.

Some remained celibate.

But most did not. And the acts ranged from consenting sex between adults, down to older men chasing pubescent youth – hebephilia – and onto outright paedophilia.

A sliding scale from the closeted, but acceptable, through to the indefensible violence of clerical child abuse.

And so this week, again, Pope Francis says sorry.

I am reasonably sure he means it.

And yes, maybe the peak of abuse is over and most of the crimes are “historic”.

But until Rome lets its priests marry, or at least while ever it insists on the biologically and psychologically impossible burden of celibacy – it will remain a deeply flawed and troubled organisation.

There is nothing wrong with it having an essentially homosexual executive.

But in these diversity-conscious times, it’s a bit unrepresentative, if nothing else.