A news story that sounds like the plot of a Dan Brown novel has been making headlines around the globe as it promotes the idea that Pope Benedict XVI was supposedly forced to resign by a group of gay prelates in the Vatican.
The Guardian newspaper reported:
“A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.
“The pope’s spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.
“The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called ‘Vatileaks’ affair.
“Last May Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with having stolen and leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.
“According to La Repubblica, the dossier comprising ‘two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red’ had been consigned to a safe in the papal apartments and would be delivered to the pope’s successor upon his election.”
While such a story could be true, the sensationalism, coupled with the paucity of facts, and being based on a “secret” document, all inspire serious doubts about its legitimacy.
Veteran church observer David Gibson downplays the possibility of the report’s veracity on his Religion News Service blog:
“I’m one of those who would say this is pretty massively overplayed. For one thing, Benedict’s resignation was most certainly the result of numerous factors, mainly revolving around the internal problems of the Vatican, of which sexual shenanigans were likely one — but hardly the only one, or even the principal one. His advancing age was the element that pushed it all to the brink.”
Reports such as this one, based on little fact, are dangerous because they perpetuate a myth that gay people are to blame for anything wrong or unusual in the church–the way that gay priests were scapegoated for the sexual abuse crisis. Furthermore, it paints gay people as manipulative, power-hungry, clandestine.
The tragedy is that such myths will continue as long as gay people serving in the church must do so in secrecy. By maintaining such a repressive atmosphere around LGBT issues, the Vatican has helped to foster a climate of suspicion and fear which paves the way for such speculation. Could a “gay lobby” exist in the Vatican? Given the repressive atmosphere, it seems very unlikely that any gay priest or prelate would have the courage to acknowledge his sexual orientation to another priest or prelate.
The sorry scandal of this story, which could be lost in the sensationalism around gay issues, is that power-mongering does indeed exist so blatantly at the Vatican. Whether by gay men or straight men, this power-mongering seriously harms the church’s mission and credibility in the world.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry