“Vanity Fair” offers a peek into Vatican’s “closet that has no door”

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“Vanity Fair” editor Michael Joseph Gross goes about as far into the Vatican closet this month as going will bear. According to VF Daily’s promotional blurb, the new issue boasts an all-out exposé by Gross about the shadowy second lives of gay priests and monks in Rome, trapped by church policies in what Gross calls a “closet that has no door.”

Certainly the topic offers a lot to be intrigued by at face value: clandestine meetings, high-stakes secrets, covert hot spots where gay clergy can seek solidarity, and possibly even abstinence-destroying sexual rendezvous in monastic cells.

But the story also advertises a hard and pathos-laden look at a community of gay men who seem to live in another age, one where secrecy is still the bread and butter of daily life, camp humor is the widely recognized code and signal book for the likeminded, and where each might have to choose between covering for a colleague and protecting his own secret.

Given the church’s firm stand against LGBT equality in most public and political spheres, the question of gay clergy has long been a nettlesome and contradictory one for the Vatican. Perhaps surprisingly, the church does allow gay men to join their ranks, provided they have been abstinent for at least three years before and vow to remain so, though a not-quite-covert campaign to drive the gay element out of the church altogether dates back decades.

Instruction on the Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of Perfection and Sacred Orders,” an internal Vatican document dating back to 1961, for example, took the position that “ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.”

But the church has long resisted calls for an outright ban, perhaps because, as noted seminarian Dean Hoge of the Catholic University of America told the Associated Press in 2005, enforcement would take enormous effort and resources and would probably prove ineffectual anyway.

But while that leaves the door open for gay men who hear the call, it also may lead them into the lonely, desperate netherworld described in Gross’ “Vanity Fair” piece. Is it worth it? To the surprise of perhaps no one, the Vatican did not return requests for comment, but maybe readers who want the full scoop can find it in VF’s December issue, available via Amazon and other retailers.

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