'Gay Lobby' at the Vatican -- Really?

A "gay lobby" at the Vatican? My first reaction to the leaking of the words of Pope Francis was, "If this Vatican 'gay lobby' is supposed to be working for me and the LGBT movement, we ought to fire them immediately!"

As a graduate of a Roman Catholic seminary and an admirer of progressive Catholic theology, I am always fascinated by the tortured relationship of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy to its gay members and leaders, but these latest developments raise serious warning signs.

In a report that surfaced from CLAR, a Latin American Catholic group, the pope is quoted as saying, "In the Curia there are holy people. It's true, there are holy people. But there is also a stream of corruption. There's also that; it's true. The 'gay lobby' is spoken of, and it's true: It's there.... We'll have to see what we can do." The pope spoke in Spanish, according to a summary of the meeting posted on a Chilean web site, Reflection and Liberation.

What does the pope mean by "We'll have to see what we can do"? These statements come in the midst of the biggest internal investigation of corruption at the Vatican in history. "Vatileaks" revealed mismanagement, money laundering, and more preceding the precipitous resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

In relation to the "gay lobby," The New York Times used the words "corruption," "vying for power," and "blackmail."

Questions abound. Is this supposed to be a group of priests who just happen to be gay and are assuring their own place and profits at the Vatican? Would it be possible that they are advocating for gay rights for ordinary gay Catholics and LGBT people around the world whose human rights are being denied every day?

Is this some kind of campy, cosmic joke?

A "gay lobby"? My mind reeled, thinking of the Vatican foyer -- perhaps that's what they meant by "gay lobby." I can picture gay Vatican fashionistas redecorating. But isn't Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel enough? Or are they lobbying the new pope to continue the recent tradition of red Prada shoes? What are we talking about here? No one is confessing!

Vatican officials have not denied the pope's remarks. And although CLAR published an apology for publishing what the Vatican describes as a private meeting, they did not disavow the content. Several spokespersons have stated that the remarks have to be understood in context -- and the context appears to be the corruption investigation.

This is no joke. The Vatican may be preparing for another Inquisition. It is so typical for the Vatican to create a campaign to blame vulnerable groups for the sins of the fathers. When Catholics in the pews in the United States took a stand against the sexual predation, collusion, and coverup by Catholic officials, what did the Vatican do? The Vatican launched an investigation on nuns in the U.S. that is still ongoing.

News of the pope's comment on a "gay lobby" overwhelmingly suggests that this is about corruption. NPR's coverage places the remark in the context of a confidential report handed to Pope Francis by Pope Benedict and cites Vatican analyst Marco Politi, who said, "The three hot issues in the Vatican Curia are issues about career, about personal ambitions; are issues about money, which means corruption; and are issues about sex. ... There was money laundering through the Vatican bank, money of the mafia. ... [I]n the '90s, there were big amounts of money for bribes for Italian political parties."

It is a dangerous situation when a trusted news source like NPR lumps together political bribes and mafia money laundering with anyone who is gay at the Vatican.

This scenario is a far cry from the idea of a "gay lobby" that is working behind the scenes to move the whole Roman Catholic Church toward more openness to all its members. I personally know priests who are doing that work, at great sacrifice to themselves. I also know priests, bishops, and archbishops who condemn vast swaths of people because they are the same as them: They are gay. Such dissonance can lead to breaking free -- or simply breaking.

So the new pope is cleaning house and wants to expose the powerful "gay lobby" -- that is, to punish entrenched, closeted gay men. The idea of a powerful "gay lobby" in the Vatican working for the human, civil, and spiritual rights of LGBT people is tantalizing, but the probability of placing generations of corruption at the feet of a group of gay men in the Vatican -- some celibate, some not -- is probably the next chapter we are facing.