Sipe Comments


Is Pope Benedict XVI gay?

That question is not in any way an accusation of sin or an insinuation of any sexual misbehavior. Nor is it a facetious inquiry.

The question of this Pope's sexual orientation takes on special significance because he was the author of Vatican documents that claimed that although homosexual orientation is not sinful, "it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder".

I do not believe that. Rather I hold with E.O. Wilson who suggests, "a strong possibility that homosexuality is normal in a biological sense, that it is a distinctive beneficent behavior that evolved as an important element of early human social organization. Homosexuals may be the genetic carriers of some of mankind's rare altruistic impulses."

The Vatican in general, and Benedict specifically, has been clear about their judgment that gay oriented men do not belong in the priesthood or religious life. One of the most definitive documents was sent to the heads of all Catholic seminaries and religious houses already in 1961. Its position was unequivocal; gay oriented men should not be allowed entrance to seminary training and should not be promoted for clerical orders.

Even more recently the Vatican reiterated its attitude about gay men by stating that the Church "cannot admit to Seminary or Holy Orders those who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture."

The sexual abuse crisis among U.S. clergy became undeniable and catastrophic in January 2002, when the Boston Globe began its series of  exposes about priests abusing minors and the Church covering up for them; it propelled the Vatican into a series of reactions i.e. summoning all the American cardinals to Rome, accepting the resignation of Cardinal Law, assembling a US bishops' meeting in Dallas; and the confusion of homosexuality with pedophilia.

The Vatican initiated a visitation of U.S. seminaries and religious houses. The report of that evaluation came in English translation in January of 2009. It was largely a white wash, but noted past difficulties in the area of morality, usually meaning homosexual behavior. "Nevertheless, in almost all the institutes where such problems existed, at least in the diocesan seminaries, the appointment of better superiors -- especially rectors -- has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome."

The spokesman for Pope John Paul II, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, had proclaimed that "People with these inclinations (gay) just cannot be ordained," and at another time he speculated that the ordination of gay priests might in fact be invalid. The twisted reasoning is that a homosexual man does not sacrifice anything by vowing celibacy since he is not inclined to have a wife and family - the only reason for a sexual life.

Despite the writings of Pope John Paul II, I will stand by what I said a decade ago: "In 2,000 years no Christian church has developed an adequate theology of sexuality—that is, no one has worked out an overarching, comprehensive, and integrative understanding of the nature and place of sexuality within the scheme of salvation and a theological system. Religious pronouncements on sex are ordinarily moralistic and marked by rhetorical, polemical, and highly charged emotional overtones designed to compensate for the essential lack of substantive foundation" (Sipe 1995, 4).

A French actor-journalist accused a recent pope (Paul VI 1963-78) of a homosexual relationship prior to his election. He provided no substantiation, but Paul publicly denied rumors of "scandalous behavior". The Vatican, however, called for a day of penance to counteract the "calumny".6

Prior rumors circulated periodically in anti-papal and anti-Catholic publications about Paul's sexual orientation and possible homosexuality. There were also suggestions about a past relationship with a priest who had served as his secretary while he was an archbishop. When these innuendoes appeared in the Italian media, Paul made the controversial choice of issuing a public denial. It was the first time in the modern era that a pope had commented in any way about his sexual identity. 7 (John Paul II proclaimed that he had "never been in love".)

The emphasis the Vatican places on sexual behavior and especially pronouncements about the "intrinsic" evil of masturbation, contraception, homosexuality, invitro fertilization, gay marriage, etc. leave it open to special scrutiny and criticism. For instance, Paul said,

beyond being intrinsically disordered, those who "engage in homosexual activity confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent." 8 This was at the same time Vatican observers were registering that there, "was the sudden appointment of homosexuals to positions of prestige and responsibility close to the Papacy. This plague infested, transformed, and devastated the Vatican during the time of Paul VI." 9

The time has passed when popes are immune from observation of their humanity even their human sexuality.

The fact that Benedict XVI has spoken out so vigorously and clearly about homosexually oriented men even those who practice celibacy makes him a prime target for investigation and speculation. If they are not suitable candidates for ordination to the priesthood (and their ordination is of questionable validity) what does that say of him and scores and scores of other prelates who are without doubt homosexually oriented?

I have asked a number of Roman clerics and members of the Roman press corps if they think the pope is gay. None, of course, wish to be named for obvious reasons, but every one was convinced that Pope Benedict XVI is gay. I repeat what I said at the outset—this does not impute sin or the misbehavior that plagued Pope Paul VI, but it is a strong assertion about his orientation.

The reflection the pope's orientation itself emphasizes the need to discuss the whole range of questions about human sexuality that the Church has considered finalized with apodictic pronouncements of "intrinsic evil".

The Vatican is wrong about sex. Its teaching is grounded on a false understanding of natural law. If not, Pope Benedict XVI is in big trouble—he is unsuitable even as a candidate for the priesthood and his ordination may be invalid.

  1. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE PASTORAL CARE OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS, Rome, Oct. 1, 1986.

  2. On Human Nature, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978. P.143.

  3. Sacred Congregation for Religious. Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders, Rome, 1961.

  4. Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction Concerning The Criteria Of Vocational Discernment Regarding Persons With Homosexual Tendencies In View Of Their Admission To Seminaries And Holy Orders, Rome, Nov. 29, 2005.

  5. Report of the Apostolic Visitation of American Seminaries. Rome, Jan. 15, 2009.

  6. Those who believed the allegation that Pope Paul VI had engaged in homosexual activity, felt the papal denial was proof that the allegations must have been true. The Silence of Sodomy, Mark Jordan.

  7. Roger Peyrefitte journalist interview in Tempo April 13, 1976

  8. January 1976 lecture on homosexuality.

  9. Franco Bellegrandi, NichitaRoncalli - Controvita di un Papa, Rome: Editizioni Internazionale di Letterature e Scienze, 1994, pp. 85-86, 91-92.

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