Former priest Matthew Fox discusses the book In the Closet of the Vatican, which depicts a “ring of lust” at the highest levels of the Church, and the campaign to hypocritically “weaponize” sexuality and bring down Pope Francis – on Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. And welcome to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay.
In Frederic Martel’s book published in early 2019, In the Closet of the Vatican, Martel’s book describes the situation of something he calls a ‘ring of lust’ amongst many of the top hierarchy of the Vatican, who conduct homosexual orgies and other kinds of sexual abuse. And those people involved in that, he says, are in fact amongst the worst at condemning homosexuality. In a review of the book written by Matthew Fox, a former Catholic priest and now Episcopalian priest, Fox writes: “Pope Francis is still stuck in doctrinal chains regarding sexuality, which are tough to throw off and break through because the ecclesial radical right has completely weaponized sexuality as its modus operandi, as its test of orthodoxy, from birth control to divorce to abortion to homosexuality, and even masturbation. The right has chosen its weapon of choice.”
Now joining us to talk about his review of Martel’s book and the state of the Catholic church is Matthew Fox. He’s a former Catholic priest, as I said. He was stopped from teaching liberation theology and creation spirituality by Cardinal Ratzinger, who then went on to become Pope Benedict. He was expelled from the Dominican order, to which he had belonged for 34 years. Matthew is the author of over two dozen books, including Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation, and The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church, and How It can be Saved. Thanks for joining us, Matthew.
MATTHEW FOX: Good to be with you, Paul.
PAUL JAY: So, Martel’s book describes, in what some people have called rather salacious terms, a really degenerate, corrupt hierarchy. Much of the hierarchy of the church. And not just about a cover up of pedophilia throughout the church, but their own activities at the highest levels, while they lead the condemnation of homosexuality and stand as the great defenders of morality. Before we get into the substance of it all, why do you believe this book is true? Like, there’s been some critique of it from within the Catholic establishment, that it’s kind of anecdotal. They say it’s gossipy. It’s not documented. So before we get into some of the specifics, and meaning, significance of it all, why do you believe this book is true?
MATTHEW FOX: Well, I think the man who wrote it, Martel, had a big team helping him. And he obviously got into the Vatican, and a lot of people spilled the beans there. He was surprised, frankly, with how frank some of these people were. It really surprised him. And frankly, even if 50 percent of it were true, it’s appalling.
But I think there’s every reason to believe that it is true. He has a decent reputation as journalist, and he put years into this. And you know, the establishment may be crying foul or something, but they’re not denying it. I have to say that I, myself, was shocked. I–for years I would, when I was speaking publicly under those popes I would say, you know, without fanfare, but simply that we’re living in the most corrupt papacy since the Borgias. This book bears that out. And I quoted that to Andrew Harvey the other day, who read that book. And he said, this beats the Borgias. This is much worse than the Borgias.
And it is true, you see, for me, from my point of view what’s really scary about it is the combination of self-hatred, these gay prelates in powerful places, like heading the Congregation of Doctrine of the Faith, which used to be called the Sacred Inquisition, these people who condemn my work as “dangerous and deviant” for years. And then one of their complaints about me was that I was accepting, if you will, positive about homosexuals. And who wouldn’t be, in today’s world, if you’ve done your science. Science has spoken. And these people are hating themselves. I mean, that’s, that’s the perversion of this. And then, of course, it spills over into oppression of others, like putting down gay people, and even creating cover up for pedophilia, and worse stuff.
But as I say in my review, these people give being gay a bad name, because they’re so self-hating that they produce these dogmas and doctrines about gay people–they have to be celibate. Well, they’ve taken vows of celibacy, and they obviously aren’t celibate. Who are they to be telling gay people they have to be celibate their whole life? They make up these dogmas about morality that are just so passé. And I have to say, you know, reading the book, I ended up feeling sorry for Pope Francis, because he’s trying to run in his organization, and it’s full of these self-hating–You know, Adrian Rich talks about patriarchy as producing a fatalistic self-hatred in men. Fatalistic self-hatred. And that’s what I was thinking as I read these horrible stories. These men are fatalistically hating themselves. And, of course, spilling all that poison and toxin on the rest of the people by making judgments and creating laws, and Canon laws, and punishments for not only gay people, but divorced heterosexual couples, and so forth. It’s a study in what internalized repression will do to people. It kills us all.
PAUL JAY: Let me read a little section from a review of Martel’s book. Martel describes in some detail what he calls the “ring of lust that surrounded John Paul II in the form of bishops and others who chased after young Swiss guards, hired prostitutes on a regular basis, recruited luxury escorts, cruised outside the Vatican and public parts,” and yet, “as cardinals they enjoy diplomatic immunity, and were also protected at the highest level of the Vatican as friends of the pope and his ministers.”
“Yet these same high-flying prelates,” quote, “are now part of the opposition to Pope Francis. They harshly criticize any proposals he makes that are favorable to homosexuals, and demand ever greater chastity, even though they have practiced so little of it themselves.” There is a convergence here, as what you describe as the self-hating homosexuality–and it should be said that Martel, who wrote this book, himself is a gay activist–and the political right. We know that Benedict, who is the retired pope still living in the Vatican, recently there was an article in the Guardian which asked the question are there actually two popes in the Catholic Church? Because the the right wing of the church and the right wing of the political world, sort of represented by Steve Bannon, who is very close to Cardinal Burke, who’s very involved in these attacks on the sort of social democratic politics of Francis, much of this really decrepit and degenerate Vatican is in that right-wing political opposition to Francis.
MATTHEW FOX: Absolutely. And that’s, that’s what’s important, that they are carrying the fight against Francis. You know, he had this synod a year or two ago where he tried to just make modest adaptations to reality and to science; tried to find a place for divorced Catholics more fully in the church, and tried to ease a little bit the opprobrium against homosexuals that was created by the previous two popes.
I mean, as Martel puts it, he says that Pope John Paul II hurled at–his entourage hurled itself into a new crusade against gays, and became one the most homophobic popes in the history of the church. And of course, Cardinal Ratzinger under John Paul II, because he was the head of the Doctrine of Faith, was absolutely fierce in attacking gays, and put out some horrible documents against homosexuality.
So this is going on at once. There’s this homophobic tirade and crusade. But there’s also the right wing. I mean, this is a papacy that supported–John Paul II supported Trujillo. And the, you know, the dictator Pinochet. And in fact, he made the ambassador under Pinochet, who became very close to Pinochet, he made him his secretary of state. And two secretary of states, Bertone and Sodano, under these previous two popes, they didn’t like each other but they were both hiding in the closet and raining opprobrium on liberation theology, or any movement in the church that was alive and was trying to work with the poor toward justice, and so forth.
And one of the most amazing stories for me is this Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo from Columbia. Because I wrote about him, what was that, about eight years ago in my book The Pope’s War. And what I learned from Penny Lernoux, who was a Catholic journalist in South America, though she was from North America. She lived there for over 30 years. And living in Colombia. She once got a call from the secretary of Cardinal Trujillo saying “We know at what time your daughter goes to school and comes home.”
Now, and Trujillo was completely involved in the drug trade in Colombia. And with that, she and her husband packed their bags within a week and and left South America for good. They came back to North America. And she told me this story personally. They were scared, really scared, when they got their phone call.
PAUL JAY: Well, I think that in your review you mention, or unless it’s Martel that says this, that Trujillo is involved and responsible for as many as 10,000 murders in Latin America.
MATTHEW FOX: Oh, no. That’s a quote about John Paul II. A priest in Latin America said that John Paul I is responsible for at least 10,000 murders in South America because of the positions he took with the support of the CIA at the time, under Reagan, against liberation theology and base communities. That over 10,000 people were murdered when the pope, in effect, gave a green light to attacking liberation theology and base communities.
But Trujillo himself–so, he was made by the pope head of the family, the Congregation of the Family. So he was taken to Rome. So he was elevated. This is a guy who threatened this woman and her child. And he is fiercely anti-communist or anti-left. But it turns out that he was, even in Colombia, he had a special apartment just for young men and boys that he would bring over to have sex with, and he would often beat them up at the end of the sexual encounter. This is a fact that Martel brought up. So here is this extreme right-wing, anti-liberation theology cardinal who is threatening someone with death, and then is elevated to be head of the Family Congregation in Rome, living in Rome. And he’s carrying on a behind the scenes at night as he was in Colombia, with underage boys and prostitutes, and so forth.
It’s really shocking. It really lays bare the relation between a lot of right-wing hypocrisy and propaganda versus self-awareness and healthy living, healthy sexuality. So to me that was one of the biggest stories in this book, ,was Cardinal Trujillo because it really tapped into what I had learned from him on a one to one meeting with Penny Lernoux, who is an amazing woman who wrote marvelous books, serious books about the Catholic Church in South America and liberation theology. One of her books were called People of God. A marvelous journalist. She’s deceased now. But she told me these stories face to face over dinner.
PAUL JAY: This pretense of being so “moral,” and denouncing homosexuality, and sex outside of marriage, and being against abortion, and so on. But this great defense of morality–I’m doing quotation marks with my fingers–while practicing degeneracy, it’s very similar to what was going on in the circles around Hitler. The Nazi movement arose in the ’30s, and one of their big planks was against the degeneracy what they said had happened in the culture in Berlin during the 1920s, while they themselves, it’s known, practiced every form of depravity; they being the leadership of the Nazis. But this, in fact, is a very, very much a fascist movement, isn’t it, with Burke and Bannon? And it comes from a fascist tradition.
MATTHEW FOX: There’s no other word for it. And Bannon, he’s continually talking about returning to the times of the past. And of course, Ratzinger had the same language. They want to return to the glory of Christianity past. Well, first of all, there wasn’t that much glory. There was plenty of darkness; the inquisitions and the anti-Semitism, and the rest. And of course the witch burnings, and the rest. So, you know, there were some, some decent movements in the Christian period. But the whole idea of nostalgia. And then it’s all made up. It’s all a projection. And it’s an illusion. And it’s not that different from Donald Trump saying Make America Great Again. It’s that same let’s make up a story, and, you know, go there instead of dealing with reality.
So it’s pitiful and it’s sick. I mean, it is degenerate. It is so sick. And you know, I don’t think the Roman Catholic Church can recover from it, even if Francis–look what’s happened. Francis tried to do a little bit of moving, and he got blasted by this cabal. It’s a minority, but it’s a powerful minority that really shut down his efforts to move in a more moderate and healthy direction which I think [crosstalk].
PAUL JAY: Recently 19 priests led by a British priest–I think this is the second time something like this happened–had a letter, a public letter, asking the priests and the hierarchy of the church to declare Pope Francis a heretic. As I mentioned earlier, there’s an article in the Guardian that asks whether there’s in fact two popes; and apparently now there’s a movement saying Benedict didn’t have the right to retire. So in fact, he actually is still the pope. So Francis isn’t really the pope. But this has a real political dimension, because this fight between this populist right-wing nationalism that’s taking place both in the United States and in Europe–again, Steve Bannon is a serious player in all this. And they see the–they actually think they can bring Francis down, and can they?
MATTHEW FOX: I think they want to. I think they’re very serious about it. And I think Burke is the frontrunner. But even Burke is exposed in this book. Although Martel, the author, says it’s hard not to laugh about Burke, because he visited Burke’s apartment, and Burke didn’t show up, or he was late. But this guy wandered around the apartment, and he found closet after closet and after closet of all kinds of [urb] and capes and all this stuff. He’s really into dressing up, Burke is.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, he calls him a raging drag queen.
MATTHEW FOX: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
PAUL JAY: Nothing against raising drag queens, by the way.
MATTHEW FOX: He’s leading the charge. And it’s so–you know, you couldn’t make this up, just like you can’t make Trump stories up. You know, a novelist, you wouldn’t believe a novelist who told you these things. There’s also a lot of humor in this book, even though it’s pitiful. But you have to find the humor, because otherwise you just weep.
PAUL JAY: Now, this has been going on for decades and decades, and only now does this book, you know, “break” this out. Now, there have been a couple of other books that suggested it. But what do you make of the way corporate media covers the Vatican? It says it is sacrosanct, you wouldn’t–the popular understanding of the Vatican would never know of any of this.
MATTHEW FOX: Well, that’s true. The corporate media is afraid of the Vatican, or it used to be. But the problem is it may lurch from being afraid to wanting to devour it, you know, and wouldn’t stop in a fair middle of the road place, it seems to me. But you know, I think the Vatican, like a lot of other institutions in the West, is in profound decline. And it’s not just Roman Catholicism. I mean, Protestant seminaries are closing all over the place, those that aren’t fundamentalist, in, well, in the West, and certainly in America.
And in fact, I just heard the other day that an Episcopal bishop in a very large diocese at a gathering of his priests said effectively, it’s all over. We don’t have any money anymore, and not enough young people are coming to church, and and it’s all over. And he didn’t offer much hope or new vision for his diocese saying those things. So there’s a decline of what we were familiar with in terms of Western religion and Christianity. But at the same time there’s a grassroots movement, and I certainly tried to be part of it, tried to contribute what I could over the years, of liberation theology. But you find it in the talk of Paul Buttigieg, who identifies as Episcopalian. And when he’s talking about the message of the Gospel is about welcoming the stranger, the immigrant, and working for justice and the poor, and so forth. So in some ways I think the Christian message is getting strong. It’s the institutions that are utterly failing us, and deserve to die. Including the seminaries, because they have not been teaching the important part of religion, which is what I would call spirituality and mysticism, the experiential part. And they’ve been so caught up in the head and theological academic stuff that they’ve missed out and what real religion is about. And it’s about gratitude, and it’s about community, and it’s about the work for justice and liberation.
PAUL JAY: So the institution itself–I don’t know, from what I’m hearing from you, I’m not so sure it’s worth saving, anyway. On the other hand, as much as the pope has, he does stand against this rising movement of real fascisization, and it seems to me that’s of some real significance to everybody.
MATTHEW FOX: Absolutely. And his encyclical Laudate Si about the environment is really important and wonderful piece of work. Just a few weeks ago a scientist said this is the greatest piece on science and spirituality that’s ever been written. He said, I show it to all my science friends, Christian or not. And I get lots of invitations to talk about Laudate Si by scientists. I was just at the Sierra Club a few weeks ago. They asked me to come. They wanted me to talk about Laudate Si. Actually, I’m kind of proud to say, Laudate Si was written by one of my students, actually; an Irish priest living in the Philippines. And so it’s full of what I would call creation spirituality. There’s a lineage that I’ve been trying to rev up for my 45 years as a theologian.
So absolutely–and of course, in that encyclical, as elsewhere, Pope Francis takes on Wall Street, takes on the shadow side of capitalism, in a very strong way. He talks about the idolatry of money, and the idolatry of the golden calf, and so forth. And he also makes explicit how it’s the poor who are going to suffer the most, are already suffering the most, at the hands of climate change. And so he’s fierce about climate change and the environment, and about, you know, working with the poor. And so he has a very strong, I think, presence. And you know, when the encyclical came out, Rush Limbaugh said, well, clearly Pope Francis is a Marxist. So I think that’s a pretty good badge for the pope to be wearing, an endorsement.
It’s a compliment to both Francis that Rush Limbaugh called him a Marxist, and I compare that to his compliment to me, who Pope Ratzinger called my work dangerous and deviant. Because what’s going on in their Vatican, in their Congregation of the Faith, is very dangerous, and very, very deviant.
PAUL JAY: All right. In the next segment we’re going to talk about Pope Francis’s struggle to deal with the cover up of sexual abuse in the church, pedophilia, and whether he is actually, the new rules he’s come up with are strong enough. Are they going to be effective? So join us for the continuation of Reality Asserts Itself with Matthew Fox on The Real News Network.