Declan Lynch: Never any mention of the gay elephant in the room
God does not love gays, but this doesn't matter because it is all just part of the grand illusion
WHEN the Pope quit on his stool, as it were, the international media gathered in Rome. And as usual on these grand occasions, we see the Vatican in its magnificence, we hear a lot of deeply deferential commentary, and we are left with this one great question: Just how many gay men are there in the Catholic priesthood?
Maybe the first thing that gets you thinking along those lines is some picture of a group of bishops or monsignors or whatever, all dressed up in their wonderful costumes and arranged with precision in this lavish setting like the chorus line in a Broadway musical. It's like the curtain has just gone up on a production of Hello Dolly – without Dolly.
The walls behind them might well be decorated by masterpieces painted by a genius of the Renaissance who was himself almost certainly gay. The viewer sees other churchmen in action, talking about the meaning of everything, and immediately the viewer notes a certain increase in activity on his Gaydar.
And personally, I would have no problem if the entire Church was gay. The only bad thing about it, is the fact that it is not celebrated, because it is not even acknowledged. It is in this monumental level of denial that the fascination lies.
So the actual presence of so many gay men is something that we note in a non-judgemental way. It would be a vague background detail, a bit of "human interest" on these otherwise solemn occasions, were it not for the fact that there seems to be so much of it. And that nobody talks about it.
Certainly to the vast majority of the media it remains unmentionable – like the Church itself, officially it likes to pretend that it just isn't there. And that even if it is, somehow it is dormant, a mere "orientation", a theory that will never be put into practice.
It's the Emperor's New Clothes again, with everybody saying what everybody else is saying, what they're supposed to say, entirely ignoring that which is truly interesting. And fantastic clothes they are too.
This was noted by Colm Toibin in a wonderful piece he wrote in 2010 for the London Review of Books, a review of a book by Angelo Quattrocchi called The Pope Is Not Gay! (with books as with Broadway musicals, we should beware of titles with an exclamation mark, but I suspect that Quattrocchi knows this).
Toibin wrote: "When I listed the reasons homosexuals might be attracted to the Church and might want to become priests, I did not mention the most obvious one: you get to wear funny bright clothes; you get to dress up all the time in what are essentially women's clothes . . . Priests prance around in elaborately fashioned costumes. Bishops and cardinals have even more coloured vestments . . . it has to be emphasised that many of them do not dress up as a matter of choice . . . but others seem to enjoy it. Among those who seem to enjoy it is Ratzinger. Quattrocchi draws our attention to the amount of care, since his election, Ratzinger has taken with his accessories, wearing designer sunglasses for example, or gold cufflinks, and different sorts of funny hats and a pair of red shoes from Prada that would take the eye out of you. He has also been having fun with his robes. On Ash Wednesday 2006, for example, he wore a robe of 'Valentino red' – called after the fashion designer – with 'showy gold embroidery' and soon afterwards changed into a blue associated with another fashion designer, Renato Balestra. In March 2007, for a visit to the juvenile prison at Casal del Marno, he wore an extraordinary tea-rose-coloured costume."
Yet Toibin argues that Quattrocchi "draws conclusions a little too easily" in linking Ratzinger's luminous dress sense with the dark side of his public hostility towards homosexuality, according to Quattrocchi, "the secularist will inevitably wonder" if Ratzinger might be "simply the most repressed, imploded gay in the world".
But then the secularist is usually excluded from these great gatherings in Rome. To the secularist, or any other outsider, a lot of things that happen in or around St Peter's Square simply look like some sort of a Star Trek convention – a deep personal enthusiasm which really doesn't have much connection with life as we know it. And though this might be an interesting observation, just for a bit of variety, such views are never sought by Sky News.
Likewise, the outsider may be baffled that so many gay men can occupy positions of power and influence in a church which is 'against' homosexuality, but again Tobin offered insight: "Becoming a priest, first of all, seemed to solve the problem of not wanting others to know that you were queer . . . that you were gay was something you managed to know about yourself and not know at the same time . . . this is almost an aspect of the Catholic religion itself, this business of knowing and not knowing something all at the same time, keeping an illusion separate from the truth," he wrote.
There will be much speculation now about the identity of the next Pope, whether he will be an Italian Pope or a black Pope, a vibrant young Pope or just another old Pope.
What they're not saying is there's an even-money chance that whatever else he is, he will be a gay Pope.