Frédéric Martel, one of the most renowned journalists in the world, goes to the Vatican and for four years rummages through the most hidden secrets of quarters. Or rather, he enters the Vatican’s closet. The homosexuality of many clerics, however, is no longer a secret – and for a long time. The denunciation of Martel is another: hypocrisy and the network of power. A huge editorial success in several countries, In the Closet of the Vatican is on the list of best sellers simultaneously in 20 countries; and promises, of course, to shock a lot. Exclusively for FAUSTO, a preview of this intricate system of lust, lies, crimes and abuse of power.
FAUSTO – Is your denunciation about hypocrisy and not homosexuality?
Frédéric Martel: Yes, the book is not against homosexuality; certainly not, since I’m gay – and gay friendly. I have no problem with the fact that many priests, bishops or cardinals in the Vatican – as in Brazil – are gay. For me, the question is the premise of a double life, schizophrenia and the hypocrisy of the system.
Does the fact that you’re openly homosexual make the book more consistent? Otherwise would it be a weapon against homosexuals?
No, I don’t think that’s the focus, because it’s very clear in the book that I have nothing against homosexuals. I do not expose people. What I do is try to understand the system, and with empathy – beyond the empathy of the people who have become characters. What happens is that this book would not be possible if it had been written by someone from inside the Vatican, Italian and heterosexual.
If I were Italian, because it is still a problem in Italy to discuss these matters. It’s a problem because of the pressure, and the press. If I were from the Vatican, of course, it would imply losing my job. And if I were straight, I would not have the codes, the network of contacts.
Do you believe Pope Francis will use this book to make structural changes in the Church?
Pope Francisco is a Peronist, a Jesuit, and is 82 years old. So he doesn’t have to wait for my book to know what to do. Moreover, he is not very progressive on the issue of family and sexual relations. What can we understand from this? You can’t expect him to go deep in these matters. However, I believe that the Pope has done much, especially through messages, of the change of cardinals, part of the system. Probably for you – and even for me and the LGBTI people – it’s not enough, and it seems like it’s too late. But compared to the two previous Popes, that’s a lot already. It is true that the book is difficult for the Vatican, but for medium-term purposes it will be positive for both the Vatican and homosexuals. You know that the Pope spoke in a private conversation – which became public – that he read the book and said the book is good and that he already knew everything.
Yes, I read about this.
Anyway, it was a private quote, I do not know how far it’s true. But it isn’t important that he thinks the book is good, but that he already knew everything – which is not news either. In the end everyone already knew everything. What they didn’t want was for it to leak, they wanted it to be a secret.
What do you think of Pope Francis?
Im my opinion, Pope Francis is heading in the right direction. He made some mistakes, like, for example, in Chile. However, he is a Pope who assumes when he makes mistakes and corrects his own mentality. I didn’t like him at first, because he is a Jesuit and in France we fight against the Jesuits [Smiles], but when you understand the fight and the opponent, you understand more. Even in Brazil, with its right-wing orientation, especially the one that came from the United States, founded by the far right, there are bishops and priests who are against him and attack him all the time, trying to get him to leave his post. I think we need to support Pope Francis.
Who financed this project? It took 4 years of research, many travels, hotel stays, your own time as a professional…
That’s really a lot, you’re right. The research cost a lot of money, plus more than 80 people working with me in many countries – by the way, I had one person in Brazil. Many of them are my friends, so they weren’t necessarily paid. I was sponsored by the largest UK and US freedom funds, which is Bloomsbury, the publisher of Harry Potter. In France, Robert Laffont, which is the second largest publisher in France. And in Italy, Feltrinelli, which is as big as the others. In Spain and Latin America, Roca / Penguin Random House.
Addressing the secondary issues of the book, but just as important: who finances prostitution and pays for HIV treatments?
My book is not about scandals. I could have said much more, because there are many other scandals. Prostitution in Rome also occurs because of the many immigrants – and many of them are Muslims, men and women. I have proof of this, I have names; evidence that I have gathered with prostitutes and the police. But I’m not a judge, I’m not judging all of them. The only important thing for me is if it is within the Law – it doesn’t matter whether it’s in Italy, France or Brazil. Being gay isn’t illegal. Prostitution may or may not be illegal, depending on the country. That is, I’m not judging neither the priest nor the prostitute. I just want to tell the story and explain how it works. Prostitution has declined, especially in the gay world, due to various apps and sexual freedom – except in Rome.
Have you ever been threatened because of this book?
I researched everything in my name, I never lied about it. Everyone knew who I was. I’ve never lied about being a journalist, nor about being gay. That is, they already knew me because of other books. At the same time, they didn’t necessarily know about the “heart” of the book. I worked simultaneously in Brazil, Poland, the United States, the United Kingdom, among others. Until the book was published, they didn’t know what I was doing, specifically because I am French and in the Vatican they live in a bubble. If I were an Italian journalist, it would probably be much more difficult. Let’s say that, on a certain organizational level, they related to me, became my friends, called me to dinner and to live with them, inside the Vatican. I’ve been with them for their vacations, spent the weekends, met the Australian side, and went to several countries. It was, in some way, easy; and I’ve never felt threatened by any of them. They’ve always been very friendly. By the way, I must thank a Brazilian priest who was extremely helpful in the process of this book, although, unfortunately, his name can’t be revealed. That is, I have to thank Brazil especially for this book.
Would it be simpler if the imposition of chastity didn’t exist?
I was Catholic until I was 12 years old. I’m a journalist, a researcher, a writer. I wanted to write a good book, based only on facts. In the book, there isn’t one insinuation. I didn’t write it with a specific agenda, in order to challenge the Church. They can use or not my book to change things. I’m not in charge, I don’t want to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. Personally, of course celibacy and chastity are dead ends, since they’re not allowed. Less than 10% of priests practice it. Besides that, various disorders are created: sexual, moral, leading to schizophrenia. This isn’t natural, it’s not even in the Bible, it’s based on the preconception of the Middle Ages. I think it would be best if the priests were married. What already exists, sex, would be in a more reliable way.
What would be the losses for these men if they assumed homosexuality? Does it have to do with “God’s acceptance”?
When a priest assumes it is something big, and frowned upon. It doesn’t inspire others to tell the truth. This isn’t just a question about homosexuality. Today, there are six thousand priests being accused of sexual abuse, only in the United States. Two thousand of them in Australia, one thousand in Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, France, Chile, Brazil. That is, this is a tragedy! There is misogyny, which is unacceptable in 2019; beyond the cover-up scheme, which creates many problems.
Yes, of course.
So the debate is not about being gay or not being gay, the debate is about authority, secrecy, being accountable to justice. I have already criticized Pope Francis – I do not know him personally – but I think he understands all this – because of what he said that about my book, that he knew everything. Change the system is not just change a problem, because it wouldn’t be so effective there. By changing the rules, one changes those who rule in the college, which changes the cardinals. Fortunately, when they are 70, they give up; at 80, they stop voting. Thinking that everyone is over 65, 70, if we wait another five or ten years, the whole college of cardinals will be changed. This Pope or the next will have most of the work on this reform. And this reform may be about the clergyman, but it may be about obedience, since one of the biggest problems is not chastity, but obedience. They must obey. The seminarian must obey the priest, the priest to the bishop, the bishop to the archbishop, the archbishop to the cardinal. It’s a system of information control and abuse of power. Big changes take time, probably years.