A number of new scandals cropped up in the media during this countdown of Benedict's final days and hours as Roman Pontiff. A major Italian paper reported the existence of a secret gay cabal in the Vatican and yesterday and a Scottish cardinal opted out of the conclave due to his prior inappropriate conduct with young priests/seminarians. In the midst of this, there are renewed calls to exclude Cardinal Mahony from the conclave as well. The Vatican denies the reports, allegedly delivered by the three cardinals responsible for investigating the sources of the Vatileaks from last year, of a secret gay group behind its walls, although, NCR's John Allen detects the possibility of a few elements of truth to the story.
The shadow of Malachi Martin looms long here. Let me explain. Malachi Martin was a controversial traditionalist author who made a considerable cottage industry out of writing novels filled with alleged "insider" Vatican gossip - typically, all of the dirty laundry you could dream up. His former religious order denounced him and reports of an affair with a married woman surfaced soon after his death. Nevertheless, Malachi Martin's reputation endures, even if his audience has declined since the turn of the millennium. Among his most memorable literary devices (or leaked information, depending upon one's perspective) was the allegation of a "superforce" in the Roman Church, a global network of homosexual cardinals and bishops who were pushing the Roman Church towards both moral and theological apostasy. The theme subsequently returned in Michael Rose's Good Bye, Good Men, a book which alleges the existence of a pervasive homosexual subculture in Roman Catholic seminaries, one which actively discourages heterosexual men from entering the priesthood.
Is any of this true? To my mind, it is almost irrelevant if this is true. The Italian newspaper article was largely untraceable, written by an apparently "new" reporter and loaded with unverifiable sources. Furthermore, the report that allegedly contains this information is and will remain (so far has been indicated) for papal eyes only. Until such time as the report is made public, it can and will be used for proof every imaginable ecclesiastical conspiracy. No, the relevance is not if the story of a gay cabal is true. Rather, it is that after some forty years in the "Catholic underground," the property of conspiratorial culture, it is being treated as a distinct possibility. The mainstream media has given the story currency. Catholic media has indicated that, given past trends, there may be some truth to it. Additionally, I can tell you from a conversation I had with an American cardinal who is very popular in traditionalist leaning circles some six years ago, there will be at least one participant in the conclave who believes it is a real conspiracy in the Vatican halls in which conducts his daily duties. Furthermore, from a sociology of religion perspective, the waning days of Benedict's papacy and the coming conclave are most interesting. Every major theme, crisis or intrigue that emerged in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council has suddenly emerged to swirl around the coming conclave. The sex abuse scandal, mandatory celibacy, the role of women, the decline of Catholicism in the West, the rise of Catholicism in the developing world, the situation of the SSPX and the place pre-Conciliar Catholicism as a whole, the rise of Islam, the moral and spiritual crisis within the Roman Church itself, the Vatican bank and, of course, an alleged gay cabal working within the Vatican to unknown ends, these and many other themes that had traditionally been subject to periodic outbreaks have suddenly and simultaneously emerged.
Benedict's papacy ends at 8pm Italian time tomorrow (February 28th). The manner in which all of the above mentioned themes have surfaced to surround the cardinal electors provides a distinct "feel" to this conclave. There is the sense, whether objectively true or simply the product our contemporary Internet media culture, that something profound is at stake in this papal election.