In a moment, I’ll share an email that Father Frederich Riegler sent regarding the book, “In the Closet of the Vatican” by Frederic Martel. Father Fred is the pastor of St. Isidore’s Catholic Church in Quakertown. His candor about the clergy never fails to impress me.
But first, here’s a musical heads up: This year’s spring concert on Sunday, April 7 (Strayer Middle School at 2 p.m.) marks 142 continuous years of music for the Quakertown Band. The theme of the concert is “Portraits of America.” The concert features a mix of jazz and patriotic music, marches and more. You won’t want to miss this musical slice of Americana.
And now to business. I knew that Father Fred would not shy away from the accusations which Frederic Martel writes about in his book, “In the Closet of the Vatican.”
“The first point I would like to make is that in the tradition of European reporters and researchers, this is a rather thorough book.” Father Fred’s email began. “What is especially noteworthy is that the interviews with priests and cardinals were taped. If the information gathered is challenged, Frederic Martel can back this up with the actual interviews. It is difficult to argue with evidence that clear when it comes to facts.
“That the individuals mentioned in the book, especially the cardinals, agreed to have themselves taped is surprising. Deniability has always been the response of churchmen who have changed their minds or want to slant the story in a different direction. That being said, if only 25 percent of the information offered in the book is true, then the Catholic Church, at its very heart, is in deep trouble.
“That is the frightening part. It is one thing to state that a person is heterosexual or homosexual. It is something else to say that that person has acted it out. Celibacy, for better or worse, begins with the premise that the cleric, at whatever level, can not act out that inclination. One can argue that the premise is misguided, outdated, or just plain wrong; however, each cleric has made a promise not to act out but to remain celibate for the rest of his life. When a cleric breaks that vow or promise, he is living a lie.
“Yes, I know in the past that clerics, especially at the highest levels have not lived out their promises. Those violations have almost always been accompanied by corruption and have undermined the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church. That outcome is the most dangerous point that flows from this book. Our credibility because of the clergy abuse scandal has been badly tarnished. This mess at the highest levels would finish off that credibility.
“Where I would question Martel’s book is in the conclusions he reaches. There, scholars in various disciplines do differ even over the same information. For example, in the famous case of the Titanic, the ship was moving at a speed that would make it difficult to avoid an iceberg at night. In the movie of that name, the reason for the speed given was either to get to New York ahead of the scheduled time or to set a new record in crossing the Atlantic.
“Neither is correct. Quite simply, for decades steam-powered ships had been moving at top speeds through possible ice fields and had not come to grief. Unfortunately for the Titanic, the odds caught up with the ship and she was mortally wounded It was as simple as that.
“The conclusions reached throughout the book are many. However, I am not ready to concede that the rule of celibacy should be dropped entirely. I am willing to concede that perhaps under certain specific circumstances, a married clergy should be tried and results then analyzed.
“I would not be willing to concede that celibacy should be ignored and that clerics should act out their sexuality. There have been several times in the history of the Church when those in the highest places did such and it was both disastrous and corrupting.
“Where Martel seems to have missed the opportunity to get to the crux of the problem is that Roman Catholicism has attempted to become centralized, to exercise control over an organization that quite literally extends from pole to pole. That was one of the results of the pontificate of John Paul II.
“Martel does have a valuable insight into the style of the pope, in that he never lived in a country where democratic means dominated the political and social scenes. And that control ultimately failed because it lacked both the personnel and the administration to bring this about. However, it also heightened the role of cardinals and made them the deciding factor in the appointment of bishops.
“Reading between the lines, the behavior of cardinals in Rome seems to have deteriorated as their lifestyle became increasingly extravagant. Ironically in the midst of all this, the Vatican went slowly bankrupt. The contrast between the penury of the Vatican and abandonment of constraints on the lifestyle of the Vatican’s administrators is breath taking. One can readily see why the crisis of the present pontificate is those who preside over the Vatican’s administration and why this distraction is key to understanding Pope Francis’s response to the clergy abuse scandal.
“The added irony is that the high standards set by John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) blinded them to what was becoming the worst scandal since the woes of the Renaissance brought on the Reformation. Martel alludes to this but unfortunately does not follow it to its logical conclusion.
“Whether or not this book will lead to a re-examination of sexuality in the Roman Catholic Church is not clear. It has been published in several languages and has no doubt caused a buzz among those who follow closely the inner workings of Rome. What is imperative is that with so much decision-making reserved to Rome, the mess in the “Closet” will paralyze any positive programs, policies, and initiatives that are proposed by the present Pope now and his successors.
“Finally, do I recommend reading ‘In the Closet of the Vatican’? Yes, if you have a strong stomach, a willingness to understand a culture that is quite foreign to most Americans, and lots of chocolate. After all, chocolate can make most experiences worthwhile.
Friends, you can understand why I hold Father Fred’s observations so high!
Sincerely, Charles Meredith