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Review: Not much substance 'In the Closet of the Vatican'

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- “In the closet of the Vatican,” a newly released book by the French author and LGBT activist Frederic Martel, is generating global media attention and discussion among Vatican figures in Rome.

Published Feb. 21, the same day a Vatican summit on sexual abuse and the protection of minors begins, the book is simultaneously launched in 8 languages. Martel says he had 3 years to draft the text, with funds provided to travel and conduct his interviews, and, he says, with the help of about 80 collaborators.

The general thesis of the book is that the Vatican is among the most active hotbeds of homosexuality in the world. Martel has said in interviews that his goal is to shed light on the hypocrisy of those officials in the Vatican who, he says, practice homosexuality and then condemn it.

Martel’s book constructs a dividing line between the good and the bad, those he says are in the closet but working to come out, and those who stay in the closet, often while protesting LGBT social movements.

His is an ideological investigation; his anecdotes are used to advance a thesis that many have called predetermined. His text does not seem to strive for objective analysis, or to make use of sociological research or statistical data.

The book seems to have two additional goals, which, embedded in the presuppositions of the text, might not have been even willfully intended by the author.

The first is to question the nature of the priesthood itself. At issue is not merely celibacy, Martel seems to argue, but the broader virtue of chastity, since, his perspective seems to hold that sexual impulses among the clergy cannot really be mastered.

The second seems to be advocacy for a transition in the Vatican, one that would excise the old establishment, to establish a new one built according to the spirit of the world. That is, according to a pansexual vision, beyond Catholic moral categories and concerns.

The book must be read as it is. It presents innuendos, but not evidence or documents. It is a gossip-filled, romanticized book, but does not present itself as a scholarly or objective account.

The Vatican has a long history of books like Martel’s, though their quality and utility has varied dramatically over the years.

The first of the genre was “Gone with the Wind in the Vatican,” published under a pseudonym in 1999. The author, later revealed to be long-time curial official Mons. Luigi Marinelli, wrote gossip and innuendo elegantly, without naming names. References were precise, though, and it was easy to discern the targets of his stories. In the end, Marinelli’s book, for what it was, was well-documented.

More recently, books by Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi were filled with Vatican documents, and were at the origins of the second Vatileaks trial. Though the books were filled with imprecision and a sometimes biased reading of the documents, they too were based on documents.

“In the closet of the Vatican” begins with gossip Martel collected in several interviews. The author says he recorded them all, and it would be interesting to listen to the full audio files, in order to contextualize some excerpts.

Martel maintains he was able to enter in the “Vatican’s closet” thanks to codes he understood that helped him to be introduced to this hidden gay world. However, it seems he never got into the Vatican proper, and, when looking at the Vatican from a key-hole, he did so with a negative prejudice.

Some examples:

Martel had a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, in his apartment in the Ethiopian College, a building at the top of the Vatican gardens that is also home to Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, and was the home of the late U.S. Cardinal Edmund Szoka.

Sodano, Martel writes, “is locked up in his African ivory tower, with all his secrets. If the Garden of Eden ever existed, it must be like this little earthly paradise: when I go there, crossing a bridge, I find myself among impeccably tended lawns and fragrant magnolias. It’s a Mediterranean garden, with pines and cypresses and, of course, olive trees. In the surrounding cedars I see purple-headed and mustachioed parrots, elegant and multi-coloured, whose mellifluous voices doubtless wake Cardinal Sodano from his slumbers”.

The description might suggest that all of this “Eden” is part of the Ethiopian College. In fact, these are the Vatican’s gardens, which occupy almost all of the Vatican City State’s territory. The Vatican is the greenest state in the world, and the Ethiopian College is one of the buildings in its gardens.

One of Martel’s guides into the closet of the Vatican is Francesco Lepore, a laicized priest and a Vatican employee at the office of Latin language at the Vatican Secretariat of State. Lepore left the priesthood after discovering his homosexuality.

Telling the story of Lepore, Martel underscored that “on 30 November 2003, the Neapolitan priest joined Domus Sanctae Marthae, the official residence of the cardinals at the Vatican – and the current home of Pope Francis.”

Domus Sanctae Marthae is not the cardinals’ official residence. It is a hotel that also hosts guests who have business with the Holy See. It becomes the cardinals’ residence during the conclave, as determined by St. John Paul II in 1996. Though Pope Francis has also resided there since being elected, Domus Sanctae Marthae still functions as a hotel, and not as a cardinals’ residence.

Martel’s description of the episcopal ordination of Georg Gaenswein is also revealing of the lens through which the author reads the Vatican.

Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, now prefect of the Pontifical Household, Gaenswein was ordained a bishop by Benedict XVI on Jan. 6, 2013. Together with him, Benedict XVI ordained Bishops Vincenzo Zani, Fortunatus Nwachukwu and Nicolas Henry Marie Denis Thevenin.

In Martel’s view, that solemn celebration was merely Benedict XVI’s homage to Gaenswein, described in a text filled with innuendos about the relationship between the two.

Martel writes: “Benedict XVI insisted on giving the pastoral ring to His Bavarian Excellency Georg Gänswein in person, in a Fellini-esque ceremony engraved forever on the memory of the 450 statues, 500 columns and 50 altars of the basilica.”

Then, Martel describes the celebration as if all other papal liturgical celebrations are not the same.

“First comes the procession, slow, superb, and choreographed to perfection; the pope with his huge topaz-yellow mitre, standing in a little indoor popemobile, a throne on wheels, travels like a giant the full 200-metre length of the nave to the sound of triumphant brass, beautiful organ sounds and the children’s choir of St Peter’s, straight as unlit candles.”

The little indoor Popemobile was in fact the small wheeled device that Benedict XVI used since 2011 to “alleviate fatigue.”

Martel goes on, saying that “the chalices are encrusted with precious stones; the censers smoke. In the front rows of this new style of episcopal organization, dozens of cardinals and hundreds of bishops and priests in their finest robes provide a palette of red, white and oxblood. There are flowers everywhere, as if at a wedding.”

And yes, Vatican decorations are always like this, as are the ornamental stones on chalices.

Everything is thus seen through a distopyc lens to carry on an ideology.

The book is also filled with stories of cardinals and bishops described as well known homosexuals, sometimes targeted by name but always without reliable sources.

Cardinal Burke is presented as a cardinal who “likes to be spoken of in the feminine: ‘Votre Éminence peut être fière’; ‘Votre Éminence est grande’; ‘Votre Éminence est trop bonne’ (‘Your Eminence can be proud’; ‘Your Eminence is great’; ‘Your Eminence is too kind’).”

The feminine is in fact the “lei,”  the Italian formal “you.” It coincides with the third singular feminine person, but has an entirely different meaning, which Martel seems not to understand.

Speaking about the Karadima case – the Chilean abuser priest that Pope Francis dismissed from the clerical state in 2018 – Martel also involves Cardinal Sodano, who was Vatican Secretary of State from 1990 through 2006.

Martel writes: “The reasons that led Sodano (as well as Cardinal Errázuriz, who replaced Sodano as secretary of state in 2006) to protect this paedophile priest remain mysterious.”

Notably, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa has never been Secretary of State, though he held the position of Secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life from 1990 to 1996.

These inaccuracies are mixed with many information taken from press reports and gossips, sometimes presented with the sentence “other sources confirm,” but without in fact giving any real evidence.

Looking at it carefully, the biggest attacks are made against those who cannot defend themselves. It is the case for Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who died in 2008, and was president of the Pontifical Council for the Family from 1990 to his death. Martel targets him because, he says, he was an anti-gay lobbyist though he was a practicing homosexual. He offers neither proof, nor the possibility of defense.

The book presents a Vatican where everyone is gay, and those who are not would like to be.

There are certainly sins and human miseries in the Vatican, and many claim that homosexuality is part of the abuse crisis, and must be discussed.

But the Vatican is not demonstrably a gay state. Alleged homosexuality is often a weapon used in order to stamp out careers. When Pope Francis speaks about the terrorism of gossip, he is speaking about that.

It is striking that Martel initially got in touch with the Vatican’s world through Krysztof Charamsa. Charamsa is the official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who outed himself on the eve of the 2015 Synod on the family, announcing his homosexual relation with a Spanish man.

Martel writes: “The first time I heard the name of Krzysztof Charamsa was in an email, from him. The prelate contacted me when he was still working for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Polish priest had enjoyed, he told me, my book Global Gay, and he asked for my help in communicating through the media his imminent coming out, though he swore me to secrecy on the subject.”

Once Martel verified that account, he did help Charamsa. It was 2015. Shortly after, he began to draft “In the closet of the Vatican.”
 

Nigerian Catholics brave persecution to remain steadfast in faith

Abuja, Nigeria, Feb 21, 2019 / 12:35 am (CNA).- Despite the constant threat of violence from Boko Haram terrorists, Catholics in Nigeria remain faithful to the Gospel, trusting God as they offer a witness of forgiveness, said a priest from the country.

As they attend Sunday Mass each week, Catholics in Nigeria “go into a church but don't know if they'll come out,” said Fr. Kenneth Chukwuka Iloabuchi.

The Nigerian priest, who is currently serving in the Diocese of Cartagena, Spain, recounted the experience of Christians in his home country to ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency. Iloabuchi visited several cities in Mexico in mid-February as part of the second Night of Witnesses organized by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria for years has faced attacks and kidnappings by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The group is estimated to have killed tens of thousands over the last decade. Christians are targeted, sometimes in attacks during Mass.

But the Catholics in Nigeria hold fast to the faith “unto death,” Iloabuchi said.

“There's one case that really struck me,” he recalled, that of “a woman who during Christmas Eve Mass lost all of her family members” to a terrorist attack.

“This woman said at the burial that she would not give in, that she would remain a Catholic unto death, that that was not going to take away her faith,” he said.

“With that peace of heart, with this attitude of forgiveness, they're giving a great witness.”

Two years ago, the priest said, while visiting a village in northern Nigeria, “in the middle of Mass a sacristan came up, an assistant, and told me that a message had been received that Boko Haram was going to enter the village and was going to attack the people, was going to attack Christians.”

“At one point, I was scared and I asked him if I had to end the Mass so the people could leave. He told me no, that never for fear of this group… had they left the church. They had never abandoned their church for fear [the militants] were going to come in to kill the people, because if they started living that way, the terrorists will have won the war.”

Iloabuchi confessed he was afraid. “But seeing the people praising God, living the ceremony, praying, I had to ask myself: 'You, who are a priest are afraid, while these people are praising God?' And I had to take this encouragement from the people to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with dignity, and we celebrated it well without a problem.”

That night, they received a message that the militants had entered the neighboring village and killed six people.

The priest said he was struck by those who lost family members to attacks such as these, yet remained at peace.

“The ministers of the Church are working hard, beginning with the Nigerian Bishops' Conference and the priests who live in the parishes with the people,” he said.

“What they are preaching is forgiveness, justice, peace and love,” the priest said. “That leads even young people in the Church, instead of taking up arms,…to forgive those who are persecuting them, and think that tomorrow will be better.”

 

Dutch cathedral may be sold because of poor attendance, maintenance costs

Utrecht, Netherlands, Feb 20, 2019 / 06:54 pm (CNA).- St. Catherine’s Cathedral in Utrecht is expected to be closed and sold due to an ongoing decrease in attendance, as the aging building has become more expensive to maintain.

The cathedral will likely be sold to the Museum Catharijne Convent, a former convent that was turned into a religious art gallery. A hearing for the sale was held Feb. 18.

An online petition has been opened by a group of parishioners who believe there is still a possibility for Catholic growth in the city. The petition has received 1,655 signatures.

“Closing the cathedral and thus removing the visibility of Catholicism in the inner city will prevent growth of the community in the future,” the petition reads.

St. Catherine's was initially built as part of a Carmelite friary, between the 15th and 16th centuries. When the Archdiocese of Utrecht was suppressed in 1580 amid the Dutch Revolt and the Protestant Reformation, the church was given over to Calvinists.

It was returned to the Catholic Church in the 19th century, and it became the cathedral when the Utrecht archdiocese was re-established in 1853.

Church historian Peter Nessen told NOS, a Dutch public broadcaster, that “the criticism comes not only from the parishioners and the pastor, but also from social media, which is why it is so amazing that Archbishop Eijk has not resisted so far, which will not increase his moderate popularity.”

Nessen added that should St. Catherine's be sold, the bishop's cathedra could be moved to St. Augustine parish in Utrecht, or to a church in Apeldoorn, more than 40 miles east of Utrecht.

The historian added that it would be the first time a Dutch cathedra has had to be relocated because of insufficient funds and a low number of parishioners.

From a high of 942,000 Catholics in 1980, the Utrecht archdiocese fell to 750,000 Catholics in 2014. By 2017, the number of Catholics in the archdiocese had risen moderately, to nearly 754,000.

Augustus Tolton one step closer to being first black American saint

Chicago, Ill., Feb 20, 2019 / 05:49 pm (CNA).- A Vatican committee has unanimously voted to send the sainthood cause of Father Augustus Tolton, a former runaway slave and the first African American priest in the United States, to the next stage.

Tolton was born into slavery in Monroe County, Missouri in 1854 and escaped to Quincy, Illinois with his family during the Civil War. He studied for the priesthood in Rome because no American seminary would accept him on account of his race. He was ordained in 1889 and served for three years at a parish in Quincy, eventually accepting an invitation to come to Chicago where he led St. Monica Parish until his death in 1897.

A nine-member theological commission at the Vatican voted unanimously Feb. 5 that Tolton’s sainthood cause, which began in 2010, be moved forward and presented to the Ordinary Meeting of Cardinals and Archbishops, the archdiocese of Chicago announced last week.

There the members will take a final vote before presenting a Decree of Heroic Virtues to Pope Francis for approval.

Father Tolton would receive the title of “Venerable” after that decree’s approval, which indicates he “lived the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance at a heroic level,” the archdiocese said.

Tolton will be declared “blessed” once it is confirmed that one miracle has been granted by God through his intercession. A second miracle is typically required for canonization.

The late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago announced Tolton’s cause for canonization in March 2010, and Tolton received the designation “Servant of God,” a title given by the Vatican once a sainthood cause has begun, in Feb. 2011.

A committee of six Vatican officials unanimously approved as historically correct a document known as the positio summarizing the life, virtue, and Tolton’s alleged miracles in 2018.

The positio, sent to Rome in Sept. 2014, was the result of extensive research conducted in Chicago and included “documents, publications, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and historical facts of the era in which he lived.”

The Congregation for Causes of Saints in Rome officially opened The Acts of the Diocesan Inquiry into Tolton’s life and virtues in March 2015, and in April 2015 the Congregation approved the juridical validity of the Diocesan Inquiry.

The Vatican granted a nihil obstat to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois in June 2016 to allow the diocese to exhume Tolton’s remains. Tolton’s body was subsequently wrapped within a new set of priestly vestments and reinterred.

Victims from Africa, Asia at Vatican to call for 'zero tolerance' of abuse cover-up

Vatican City, Feb 20, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- While studying at an African minor seminary at the age of 14, Benjamin Kitobo says he was abused by a Belgian priest, who had been sent to Africa after previously abusing children in Europe.

Now as an adult, Kitobo is one of the many sex abuse victims who traveled to Rome to share his story on the sidelines of the Vatican’s Feb. 21 - 24 sex abuse summit where bishops will meet in the presence of Pope Francis to discuss the protection of minors.

Kitobo told CNA at a gathering of victims and advocates from across Africa, Asia, and Latin America outside St. Peter’s Square Wednesday that he is calling for “zero tolerance” for bishops who cover-up sexual abuse, as well as the abusers themselves.

“Zero tolerance … for the people playing into the mechanism of covering up and the people abusing children,” he said, emphasizing that this needs to be “enforceable.”

“I’m addressing Pope Francis to not let the bishop go back home in Africa without any universal law against abusers and bishops who cover up for abuse,” he said.

After Kitobo complained about his abuser at his minor seminary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he found out that this priest continued to work with children in Rwanda.

“They didn’t act on this abuser. That is why I am here to complain. Many were treated the same way,” he told CNA Feb. 20.

“Abuse thrives under that kind of taboo when you can’t speak about it,” Kitobo reflected.

Kitobo was joined by sex abuse victims from Jamaica, New Zealand, Great Britain, Mexico, Chile, the United States, and elsewhere, who called for zero-tolerance for both perpetrators and bishops.

Sex abuse victims also spoke to how different countries’ cultures can exacerbate the stigma of speaking about sex abuse and cultivate a culture of silence.

“The culture that exists in society and within the Church in India makes it very difficult for survivors of abuse to come out and tell their stories,” Virginia Saldanha, an advocate for female sexual abuse victims in India explained.

Victims who do speak out “have been effectively silenced,” she continued.

“That is why I … questioned my own cardinal's place on the organizing team of this summit because in his own diocese, he has not addressed a single case successfully,” she said, referring to Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, one of four members of the Vatican sex abuse summit’s organizing committee.

“I know that the victims that our group has brought to Cardinal Gracias have been silenced,” Saldanha told CNA.

Saldanha began working for the Archdiocese of Bombay in 1991 and later went on to serve as the diocesan secretary for the commission for women, where she particularly tried to get the Church to speak out about societal violence against women.

“I tried to raise awareness but I kept coming up against a wall. I felt that the Church was not serious about this,” she said.

In the years since, the diocese has created a gender policy. “And what do they do with their gender policy? I teach it every year to our seminarians, but that is about it. How effective is it? Not at all,” Saldanha said.

“In India, we've had so many cases of all these great religious teachers abusing women, Hindus also, they have been abusing women,” she said.

“It is not just India, it is all of Asia, the culture is that way … people will not speak out because Confucian culture also says, 'you have to save face' you know? Protect the name of the Church, so when a victim has to speak out, they have to think first how they are going to be affected,” she explained.

"It is a global problem. We know this from survivors around the world,” Peter Isle, director of Ending Clergy Abuse told press before meeting with the Vatican organizing committee for the summit.

“The same obstacles, the same non-transparency, the same irresponsibility that we've seen over and over again by Church officials, that is happening all over the world,” he continued.

“If you had to pick one form of zero tolerance it is this one: zero tolerance for any bishop or cardinal who has covered up for child sex crimes,” Isle said.

Ohio doctor under investigation after dozens of patient overdose deaths

Columbus, Ohio, Feb 20, 2019 / 04:36 pm (CNA).- A doctor at a Catholic health system in Ohio has been fired after being accused of prescribing excessive doses of drugs to at least 30 ailing patients, some near death and some not. The accusations have also prompted the suspension of 20 hospital staff and over a dozen lawsuits alleging wrongful death.

Mount Carmel Health System fired Dr. William Husel from his job on Nov. 21, 2018, accusing him of prescribing excessive pain medicine to 34 patients in the intensive care unit. All of the patients died over the period of 2015-2018, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

“We are sorry for this tragedy, and we will continue to investigate how we responded to this report and whether there is any other information that should have led us to investigate sooner into Dr. Husel’s practices,” Edward Lamb, president and CEO of Mount Carmel Health System, said Jan. 24.

In a previous Jan. 14 statement, Lamb said the doctor’s actions were “unacceptable and inconsistent with the values and practices of Mount Carmel, regardless of the reasons the actions were taken.”

“We take responsibility for the fact that the processes in place were not sufficient to prevent these actions from happening,” he said.

The hospital said it received a formal report about the apparent behavior on Oct. 25 of last year. An employee reported the behavior out of safety concerns. The hospital said it knows of three deaths that took place from the time it received the report about Husel to the time it fired him.

Of the 34 patients who received overdoses of the drugs under Husel, 33 died at Mount Carmel West primary care hospital in Columbus, while one died at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s in Westerville. The hospital believes a few of these deaths were not caused by the overdoses.

Mount Carmel Health System is the second-largest non-profit Catholic healthcare system in the state. It is a member of the Michigan-based system Trinity Health.

Husel treated patients taken to the ICU for various reasons, including respiratory problems, infections, and gallstones. Some families said their loved ones were not terminally ill and they would have questioned the use of the medication administered under the doctor’s orders.

The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office and Columbus police are investigating but no formal charges have been filed, NBC News reports.

The Ohio State Medical Board suspended Husel’s medical license in January.

Many of the details of the alleged victims come from lawsuits, court filings, and plaintiffs’ attorneys.

In one case, lawyers with the Leeseburg & Valentine law firm said, the doctor ordered a large dose of fentanyl - an opioid - and midazolam - a sedative - to be administered to 57-year-old Michael Walters just minutes before the patient died.

Walters had resided at a nursing home for several years after a stroke. He was admitted to the hospital on Oct. 6, 2017 suffering from respiratory failure and brain swelling, and was placed on a breathing machine. Late on Oct. 10, his family was persuaded to change his status to do-not-resuscitate. He died the next day.

The family members of Janet Kavanaugh, 79, have filed a lawsuit against the doctor and the hospital. They said she received a lethal dose of fentanyl and pronounced dead 18 minutes later.

Lawyer Gerry Leeseberg, who filed the suit on behalf of Kavanaugh’s estate, said she had not consented to the high dose. He was not aware whether she had previously been given the drug for pain relief, NBC News reports.

“We're concerned some of these families were misled into granting a do-not-resuscitate order,” Leeseberg said.

CNA sought comment from the Diocese of Columbus but did not receive a response by deadline.

The hospital released a statement and an apology on Jan. 14, the same day a patient filed a lawsuit. It removed 20 employees from patient care pending the results of its investigation, including nurses who administered the drugs and pharmacists.

Lamb, the health system head, said Jan. 24 that based on the initial report, the hospital system “should have begun a more expedited process to investigate and consider immediate removal of Dr. Husel from patient care at that time.”

More patients might be discovered as the investigation continues, he said.

According to Lamb, clinicians must provide “complete and clinically accurate” information about a patient’s condition, potential treatments, likelihood to recover and options for care. The investigation will determine whether this was the practice for the treatment of each of the patients.

“These events are heartbreaking,” said Lamb. “We are committed to being open and honest about what happened and what we are doing to ensure it never happens again.”

He pledged to respect the privacy and rights of those involved in accordance with privacy laws and to continue to cooperate with law enforcement and other relevant authorities.

For many of the patients, the doctor was able to use emergency overrides to bypass safeguards in the medication system. He was also able to avoid required pharmacist pre-approval.

A review from the Ohio Department of Health faulted the two hospitals for failing to ensure a system to prevent overrides that access large doses of “central nervous system” medications, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

The reports have already caused federal authorities to tell two hospitals in the health system they were non-compliant with Medicare standards for pharmaceuticals. They warned that the hospitals’ Medicare provider agreement would terminate on Feb. 24. Hospital leaders later agreed to a corrective plan and state oversight to ensure compliance.

 

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St. John Mary Vianney, Priest (Memorial)