|Does this make|
me look gay?
And we have had our share of gay popes. Pope Paul II Barbo (reigned 1464-1471)—the Pope who built the fabulous Palazzo Venezia in Rome—died while being sodomized by a page. Sixtus IV dellaRovere, (1471-1484) the Pope who built the Sistine Chapel, was openly homosexual during his pontificate and his nephew, Julius II dellaRovere, (1503-`1513) the pope who hired Michelangelo to fresco the Chapel ceiling, was a bisexual who allegedly rewarded one male lover with an archbishopric. Leo X Medici (1513-1521) was also said to be a practicing homosexual. Julius III Ciocchi del Monte (1550-1555) made his lover, a beggar youth of fourteen, a boy of great beauty and little intelligence, a Cardinal, and eventually Secretary of State, to the scandal of Church reformers such as Reginald Pole and Giovanni Carafa (later Paul IV). To be fair, most popes of this period were, or had been before their election, sexually active; these few just preferred the company of gentlemen in their beds to those of the ladies. There have been some rumors about more recent popes but at this point they are only rumors and not accepted as historically reliable stories.
Not so for members of the Roman Curia or the Sacred College. Among the American Cardinals it seems that Cardinal O’Connell of Boston (Archbishop 1907-1944) was blackmailed by his nephew, Monsignor James P. O’Connell, to keep secret a sexual relationship the Cardinal had with a judge. There are some particularly salacious stories about O’Connell’s Roman Patron, the English/Spanish Cardinal Rafael Merry Del Val who served as Secretary of State (and almost vice-pope) to Pope Saint Pius X. Upon the election of Pius’ Successor, the prudish Benedict XV, Merry del Val’s was pushed to the margins and his influence never again the same as it had been. Stories alleging the death of George, Cardinal Mundelein (Archbishop of Chicago 1915-1939) was related to a homosexual love triangle have long circulated but what gives them credibility is that among those who told the gossip was the eminent Catholic Church historian, Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, himself a priest of Mundelein’s Archdiocese of Chicago. And of course the stories about the homosexual double life of Cardinal Francis Spellman (Archbishop of New York 1939-1967) are widely accepted as factual. Some stories even have ties between Spellman and the double life of long time FBI director, J.Edgar Hoover. If the Spellman stories are true, and I think there is sufficient evidence to warrant their credibility, Spellman had to have protectors and allies not only in the Church but in law enforcement.
As for the current scene in Rome, having lived there off and on over the last twenty-five years and being a frequent visitor to the city, the gossip about prelates and priests with same-sex orientation abounds at every dinner party, every religious house, every seminary, every coffee bar. The “Gay Bars” of Rome thrive with clerical customers. Some prelates make little or no attempt to hide their homosexuality with their handsome young priests or seminarians trailing behind them whether to a Papal Mass at Saint Peter’s or embassy receptions. Other prelates and priests live in fear of being betrayed or discovered but still have their liaisons with Swiss guards or young monks or petitioners who have come to Rome seeking some favor or dispensation. Every so often the newspapers report a priest or monsignor being picked up by the police at the Termini (the train station) or the Pincio for soliciting sex and it never seems to be from a woman—though sometimes it is from one of Rome’s famous transvestite prostitutes.
So is there a “gay lobby” at the Vatican. No doubt. No surprise. What this experience should teach the Church is that there is a need to rethink its theology of human sexuality from the foundations up. Not only the mystery of sin and grace that is revealed to priests hearing confession should call for a re-estimation of sexual moral theology, but the lived experience of the clergy themselves should make them evaluate the true nature of human sexuality, whether “gay” or “straight.” I am not saying that that there should be a carte blanche for irresponsible sexual behavior but it does mean that we should know from our own experiences of grace that the magisterium’s current moral definitions are far more narrow than the parameters in which God works.