In a meeting with Latin American members of religious orders on June 6, Pope Francis reportedly spoke of a “gay lobby” in the Roman curia. Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the press office of the Holy See, has declined to comment, explaining that the meeting was private.
The source for the pope’s striking acknowledgment that a network of gay Vatican officials impairs the functioning of the curia is complicated. Some of the Latin American religious who met with him paraphrased his remarks in notes that they wrote up in Spanish. Those notes were posted Sunday at the Chilean Catholic website Reflexión y Liberación, which has since taken them down, although they can still be found in Google cache. An English translation was posted on Monday at Rorate Caeli. Within twenty-four hours, several leading English-language news organizations began to run stories on the whole business, under punchy headlines that included the words “gay lobby” and “Vatican.”
On Tuesday, the Confederation of Latin American and Caribbean Religious (CLAR), the organization that those who met with Francis represented, issued an apology for the publication of the notes, stressing that they don’t necessarily reflect his choice of words (las expresiones singulars), only the “general sense” (su sentido general) of his comments. On Wednesday, the Catholic News Agency got it backward when it reported that CLAR was now asserting that the substance of the pope’s comments as reflected in the notes taken by CLAR members “cannot be attributed with certainty to the Holy Father.” The substance of those comments is what CLAR does stand by.
It’s tempting to interpret Fr. Lombardi’s “no comment” as a non-confirmation confirmation, especially in light of the statement from the Vatican secretariat of state, in February, before Francis’ election, that the distribution of “unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories” was “deplorable.” (The reference was vague—it could have been to reports that a gay lobby forced Pope Benedict’s decision to step down, not to the broader speculation that a gay lobby in the Vatican was brought to his attention. What was clear, in any case, was the willingness of a leading dicastery to shake its head “No” in the general direction of the gay-lobby story.) Sandro Magister thinks there’s no doubt “on the foundation of the phrases attributed to him [Pope Francis]. Otherwise they would have denied it.”
If Magister is right, at least two other remarks that the pope made in the meeting should be noted. He spoke disapprovingly of Catholic traditionalism and approvingly of Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, who created a stir in May 2002 with his interview in the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Giorni, where he argued that the media exaggerated the clerical sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church to divert attention from the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. He later apologized for the suggestion that Jews in the media were retaliating against the Catholic Church for the Church’s pro-Palestinian position, as he characterized it with some enthusiasm.
The perception that the Church tilts toward Palestine and away from Israel is widespread, not unfounded, and a cause of concern for many, including many Catholics. Francis named Rodríguez Maradiaga to his advisory council of eight cardinals to assist in curial reform. According to the notes of the meeting between Francis and CLAR, he spoke highly of Rodríguez Maradiaga’s administrative skills, not his views on Israel, but the selection of the cardinal nonetheless leaves those who care about Israel to conclude either that he shares the cardinal’s views on the Jewish state or that he doesn’t consider the Church’s relationship with Israel to be a high priority.