With the papal conclave only hours away, the College of Cardinals must not have been pleased on Tuesday when reports circulated that the Vatican shared a block with Italy's top gay sauna. We're not talking about sharing a stray wall or anything like that, either.
The Holy See purchased a $30 million stake in the apartment block that houses the Europa Multiclub. It was also Benedict XVI's former right hand, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, that picked the spot in 2008. On the Vatican's side are 18 apartments, most of which are occupied by priests, and the home of Cardinal Ivan Dias, the head of the Congregation for Evangelisation of Peoples. On the Europa Multiclub side is fun palace "create by males for males only." Italy's hottest gay sauna has everything: a king turkish bath, a Finnish sauna, a waterfall whirlpool and "surprises," to name a few amenities listed on its website. There's also Bruno, "a hairy, overweight pastor of souls … free to the music of his clergyman, remaining in a thong, because he wants to expose body and soul" that promotes the club's Bear Nights. Take the virtual tour — it's really quite an enchanting space.
This wouldn't be such a big deal if not for the seemingly endless stream of condemning reports and tongue-in-cheek jokes about homosexuality within the Vatican's walls. It didn't take long at all after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation in late February before folks started speculating that his holiness was brought down by "a cross-dressing priest sex ring" that was detailed in a 300-page report given to Benedict on December 17, the day he reportedly decided to retire. The details of that allegation are indeed pretty sensation and also happen to involve a gay sauna, though apparently not the one that that's next door to all the clergymen. Reports also said that the priests implicated in the report were being blackmailed. The Vatican spokesman said at the time the report was released, "Neither the cardinals' commission nor I will make comments to confirm or deny the things that are said about this matter." He added that they would also not be commenting further on the report either.
Don't they get it? This is just the brand of secrecy that's inviting people to believe that there is some massive gay clergy conspiracy that threatens to bring down the Catholic Church as we know it. Frank Bruni wrote about this insightfully in his Sunday New York Times column. Quoth Bruni:
Much of what has eroded the church's authority and must be addressed is its addiction to secrecy, its rejection of transparency. This dictated its botched, disastrous response to the child sexual abuse crisis. … It's also why public attention to the final chapter of Pope Benedict XVI's reign was dominated by talk of leaks and liaisons and wiretaps and dossiers. When an organization shrouds itself in mystery, it's invariably treated as a cradle of intrigue.
And from here on out, as Bruni says, the cardinals will literally be speaking "to the outside world in smoke signals." No wonder Andrew Sullivan can joke that most Cardinals are gay on national television and people actually believe him.