Feb 22, 2019

In The Closet of the Vatican: New Investigative Study

In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy - just published today, February 22nd, 2019.

Thanks to Kittredge Cheery of the wonderful gay Christian blog,  QSpirit Blog, for the heads up about the publication of this major new investigative study into the secret homosexual double lives of many priests (and bishops and cardinals) in the vatican - and the way this affects Church teaching. I just purchased my kindle edition today. A must read for those of us Gay/Lesbian folk who feel connected to the Christian tradition and a sense of vocation to witness to being spiritual and gay within the Christian community.

Here is Amazon's blurb:

In the Closet of the Vatican exposes the rot at the heart of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church today. This brilliant piece of investigative writing is based on four years' authoritative research, including extensive interviews with those in power. 

The celibacy of priests, the condemnation of the use of contraceptives, the cover up of countless cases of sexual abuse, the resignation of Benedict XVI, misogyny among the clergy, the dramatic fall in Europe of the number of vocations to the priesthood, the plotting against Pope Francis – all these issues are clouded in mystery and secrecy.

In the Closet of the Vatican is a book that reveals these secrets and penetrates this enigma. It derives from a system founded on a clerical culture of secrecy which starts in junior seminaries and continues right up to the Vatican itself. It is based on the double lives of priests and on extreme homophobia. The resulting schizophrenia in the Church is hard to fathom. But the more a prelate is homophobic, the more likely it is that he is himself gay.

'Behind rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life'. These are the words of Pope Francis himself and with them the Pope has unlocked the Closet.

No one can claim to really understand the Catholic Church today until they have read this book. It reveals a truth that is extraordinary and disturbing.

Feb 11, 2019

Wanderer by Sarah Leon: Gay Debut Novel of the Year

A very young Sarah Leon published this heat-wrenching  love story in French in 2016 when she was barely twenty years old. Three years later we are blessed to have this exquisite English translation of the work  by John Cullen, a translator of note with many books to his name. It is one of the most affecting love stories you will ever read.

Wanderer has already been nominated to Lambda as the gay fiction novel of the year. It is a love story of such tender sorrow and grief that it tears the heart to read it. Words fail when it comes to reviewing a book of such extraordinary sensitivity to all the modulations and nuances of unrequited love. 

Wanderer tells of the relationship between a boy of 15 (when the couple first meet), Lenny Weick, and a young music composition student of 25, Hermin Peyre.  When  Lenny  walks into the piano store where Hermin is working to put himself through music school and asks to play one of the pianos, the young composer, Hermin Peyre, recognizes that the boy has a prodigious talent that needs nurturing. He provides him with the encouragement and guidance he needs, as well as directing him towards more accomplished piano tutors than himself.  This guidance finally propels the boy into becoming in time one of the most renowned pianists of his generation. However, at the age of 17, on the edge of his spectacular career, Lenny disappears from Hemin's life without a word of explanation. 

Spoiler Alert: The book opens ten years after Lenny's mysterious disappearance from Hermin's life. Hermin has retired to the Bourbonnais Mountains in the center of France to live a hermit's existence and compose his music. He nurtures a profound grief over Lenny's disappearance - without fully understanding or acknowledging the nature of the love between them, the love that dare not speak its name. This is the heart of the tragedy between these two young men, fated to be together in love, but blocked by Hermin's inability to come to terms with his true sexual nature.

Now, quite unexpectedly, Lenny arrives at Hermin's door in the Bourbonnais after his ten year hiatus. Over the next several days, the two men explore the nature of their relationship and the reasons for their inability to come together and recognize the true nature of their love. Lenny announces that he is giving up the piano altogether. It takes several days before Hermin understands - and gets Lenny to admit - that one of the reasons for this is that Lenny is seriously, even fatally ill, with tuberculosis.  

But it is not the only reason for his decision. The real reason, buried deep in Lenny's heart, is his profound grief over Hermin's inability to accept their love and to openly admit that he loves Lenny in the same passionate way the young man loves him. Lenny rebukes Hermin for never realizing that the only reason Lenny played the piano at all was to express his love for Hermin, and to play with him and be with him. Life and his beloved piano have no meaning for him without Hermin's love.

As I read these words of mine, they seem unbearably clumsy compared to the astonishing beauty and subtlety of Sarah Leon's prose, translated for us by John Cullen. At first, Lenny is tentative and cautious about the hints he gives out about his true motivations, afraid that he will frighten Hermin away. Hermin, for his part, picks up on the clues and they force him to face his true nature for the first time in his life. It is a painful process, with many doubts and hesitations on Hermin's part. He is threatened by the implications of what is happening because he had never thought of himself in 'that way', it is not part of his self-image.

Too much plot here, perhaps,for a book review. The tragic dimension of the story is revealed when we understand just how seriously ill Lenny really is - because he has refused medical treatment out of despair over his lost love for Hermin. Only now, in the mountains, he hopes that Hermin will acknowledge that he is 'like' Lenny in 'that way' and that he loves Lenny as Lenny passionately loves him. If this love is acknowledged, then Lenny will seek the medical treatment he needs. But alas, Hermin hesitates, prevaricates, retreats - 

Summarized in this fashion, the story might appear mawkish and sentimental, but I can assure you it is nothing of the kind, not as it is fleshed out by Sarah Leon. We believe every word of it and long for a healing and reconciliation between the two young men.

The story climaxes through an experience of union with nature at a waterfall in the forest, with the dying Lenny in Hermin's arms The whole experience feels to Hermin like a 'mystical marriage', a chaste consummation. But even then, after this moment of spiritual revelation, Hermin still hesitates.

The inspiration for the whole book is the music of Franz Schubert, whom both men love - especially his  the Wanderer Fantasy and the Winter Journey. I would recommend that the reader listen to Schubert's music while reading the book. It is what I did and it complements the story exquisitely, sorrowfully, poignantly. 

Well to keep in mind that Schubert died at the very young age of 31 (of complications from syphilis). And Lenny - at the very young age of 27.

Nowhere in the book are the conventional terms or phrases used - gay, coming out, out of the closet, repression. Lenny is well aware of the difficulties Hermin is facing, but the references to these painful issues for many gay men is subtle and indirect. 

Lenny - full aware of his true nature and his love for Hermin,  but afraid of frightening Hermin away.
Herman - slowly becoming aware of the true nature of the love between Lenny and himself - but hesitant, timid, fearful - a caution that has tragic consequences, which will remain with Hermin for the rest of his lonely days.

Gay debut novel of the year 2019.