Just days before Pope Benedict became the first pontiff to resign in 600 years, his office was embroiled in yet another intrigue -- this time involving the discovery of an alleged gay underworld in the Vatican.
As reported in La Repubblica, an underground network of Vatican officials has allegedly been engaging in sexual acts at locations throughout Rome, including a sauna and beauty parlor. These gay (or closeted) clergy have supposedly been blackmailed by a group of male prostitutes.
The news wasn't too surprising to those who view the papacy's draconian approach to human sexuality as the source of so much secrecy and sexual abuse rampant throughout the culture of the priesthood. But the Vatican was quick to dismiss a claim that the pope decided to resign after allegedly hearing this news in a Dec. 17 dossier: "It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the conclave ... that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions," said the Vatican's secretariat of state in an excerpt published in the Guardian.
But this response misses the point. The morality of the Roman Catholic cardinals, who will likely elect a new pope as early as next week, is what's really in question. Last week alone, Cardinal Keith O'Brein, the highest-ranking Catholic leader in Britain, resigned after allegations of inappropriate acts he committed toward male priests surfaced in the Observer newspaper.
What his resignation statement and the Catholic Church fail to recognize, however, is the growing public support for gay and transgender equality, and the opinion that it is morally OK for LGBT people to have healthy sexual lives and full equality in and outside of the church. The real moral quandary is scandal -- the lies and manipulation surrounding sexual abuse, and the contradictory public anti-gay stances of Cardinals compared to this underground behavior.
Cardinal O'Brein was slated to attend the conclave to decide on the next pope but said he would no longer do so amid the controversy.
While nobody (but the pope) has seen the 300-page dossier, we know it contains a window into the breadth of corruption within the Vatican. This internal investigation was prompted by the "Vatileaks" scandal last spring, and it discovered a host of corruption surrounding the breaking of two commandments in particular: "Thou shat not steal" and "Thou shalt not commit adultery" -- respective references to financial mismanagement and homosexual relations by priests.
Concerns of financial mismanagement first surfaced through the hundreds of controversial documents that were leaked into the Italian media last year. These documents revealed corruption within the highest echelons of the Catholic Church, including Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone, the 78-year-old secretary of state. "Bertone's name recurs in letter after secret letter, as he plots to oust rivals as varied as the editor of the bishop's daily newspaper and the man sent in to clean up the Vatican's finances," reported The Daily Beast last July.
The man cleaning up the Vatican's finances was Archbishop Carol Maria Viganò, who, according to the New York Times, made enemies within the powerful administrative body of the Roman Catholic Church (the Curia) for identifying corruption. Against his wishes, he was removed from his post and sent to serve as an ambassador to the United States in Washington D.C. "I've never heard of a top cleric who reveals an episode of corruption directly to the pope; it's a first. And what happens? He is stopped from pursuing his objectives and gets sent away from the Holy See," said the host of the television program Gianluigi Nuzzi to the Times.
What all this boils down too is not only the egregious mismanagement of Vatican City, but also the antiquated leadership model within the Church and it's inability to foster a healthy system that can function within the modern world. The Vatican creates unnecessary pressure by placing itself into a sexual closet; healthier conversations on human sexuality issues would improve the lives of both leaders and members of the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict cited his failing health -- a lack of strength of body and mind specifically -- as the reasons he is unable to appropriately fulfill the ministry that was entrusted to him. The next pope, said to be elected before Holy Week at the end of the month, will be handed the 300-page report detailing corruption issues, including information about this alleged gay Vatican underworld.
It is unlikely that the leaders of the Catholic Church will modernize their approach anytime soon; however, this document signals the need for an internal reformation around sexuality, including issues of LGBT equality.
Almost 6-in-10 American Catholics support LGBT rights because lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are a part of their daily lives.
Will Catholic leaders come out of the closet (or underground sauna) and talk about human sexuality and sexual conduct in ways that create a healthier church culture? Or will they continue to ignore these issues and further alienate the LGBT-loving Christians in their pews?
Follow Joseph Ward III on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JosephWardIII