Unsurprisingly, Popes Я Us have not been returning my calls. No doubt the issue of what His Holiness’s position should be on the trans community has slid down the list of priorities with the announcement of his resignation. He may reasonably feel that the trans community can safely be left to his successor.
And who would want that job? As our vicar said to me when I facetiously told him that I had had him down for Canterbury: I may be dumb but I’m not stupid.
And this is Canterbury in spades.
I left a phone message after two or three attempts, with my best wishes for the man. These are sincere. I don’t agree with much of what he has said but he seems to me to be a genuine and godly man in an impossible position. The only time I saw him was in the distance in St Peter’s, soon after his appointment. He was celebrating mass and the congregation, instead of standing with modestly lowered heads, were pogoing up and down like early enthusiasts for the Sex Pistols, holding their mobiles above their heads and attempting to get a good snap. I can’t help thinking that he hoped for better when his colleagues shyly but firmly thrust the keys of the fisherman into his hands.
His enemies say two things against him, both of which seem to me to be beside the point.
The first is that he turned a blind eye to the sheltering by the Church of paedophile priests. That doesn’t seem to be borne out by the facts, which seem to be that he did pretty much all that he could to ensure that the police were involved as a matter of routine, but that things drifted and decisions were put off during the senility of his predecessor.
The second is that when a boy in Germany he joined the Hitler Youth. I think that in his circumstances most of us would have; I myself joined the Surrey Young Conservatives.
(I should say in my defence that I had no hand in the matter. My mother forged my signature on the application form. She thought that it would enable me to make a better class of friends than the cross-dressers and jazz fiends into whose company I had fallen.
Actually there was only the one cross-dresser, and he gave it up when he grew too big for his mother’s clothes. We drifted apart but I believe that like his father he went on to a successful career as a stockbroker.
I never attended the deliberations of the Surrey Young Conservatives. With the over-sensitivity of youth I was never convinced that my tweeding would pass muster.)
Of course there are rumours why the Pope is leaving. By all accounts the Vatican is awash with fraud and sexual incontinence. He has been threatened with the exposure of this secret or that, so the rumours go, unless he resigns and leaves matters in the hands of someone more malleable.
These rumours cannot simply be ignored, and that is one reason why I was anxious to check some of the more extreme of them with Popes Я Us. The crux of it (as regards sexual incontinence anyway, rather than fraud) seems to be that Cardinals have been freely indulging themselves in the Roman gay underworld – many of them, indeed, with rent boys.
The first rumour has some Eminence or other sending out from his eyrie in the Vatican for home delivery. Apparently a ‘chorister’ would act as the go-between. It’s not clear to me whether this ‘chorister’ was a smooth-cheeked treble or an older tenor or bass singer on whom such worldliness would sit more naturally. My belief, though without checking, is that castrati are a thing of the past. It was probably a grown man, as one detail that has come to me involves the purchase of condoms.
Condoms are apparently hard to come by in Vatican City. You will look in vain for a condom dispenser in the public lavatories to be found there, just as, for different reasons, you will look in vain for an ATM with money in it. Nevertheless the application of a condom to His Eminence’s elderly and uncertain member is, on health grounds, as desirable for His Eminence as for the rent boy. His Eminence has researched the knotty theological question whether an act that would condemn a man and wife to the everlasting bonfire might be, for him, pure and free from sin. He has delved into the incunabula of the Vatican Library (to be found between the Hollywood DVDs on the one side and the complete recordings of Paul Simon on the other) and his conclusion is that, whilst condoms are in general the work of the Devil, as used between himself and his young friend no sin is involved as there is no conception to be thwarted. Preventing conception, he has convinced himself, is the nub of the matter. This is despite certain Thirteenth Century manuscripts that assert that the mingling of the fluids of a Cardinal and his catamite is the very best thing for the creation by artifice of certain monsters. He discounts these as superstitious.
Anyway the upshot is that when the ‘chorister’, disappears into the stews of Rome in one of the Papal Zils he stops at a chemist (there is an all-night Booti on the way), buys a pack of three – or ‘Trinita’ as it is colloquially known around Vatican City – and delivers it to His Eminence together with the boy.
That’s why I think that the chorister must be a tenor or bass. The words ‘Trinita, per favore!’, delivered in an unbroken voice of a purity that would, the following Sunday, launch the glories of Palestrina across the great space of St Peter’s, would cause the hardened old pharmacist not to come across with the goods but to sink to his knees in prayer.
Younger Cardinals, on the other hand, take the Papal Zils into town in search of pleasure. Their chosen destination, I gather, is the ‘Bathhouse of Caracalla’. My source (who has been, so he tells me, their chauffeur on more than one such occasion) describes the high spirits with which these saintly gentlemen clamber into the back of the limousine in their Armani suits. Their excitement is such that as often as not they have forgotten to change their collars. What a giveaway! they shriek, stuffing the clerical articles beneath the seat, and appearing at the Bathhouse otherwise impeccably dressed but open at the neck.
Curiously, when I make my way to places such as this, I find that wearing the full Cardinal’s robes, crimson from biretta to Prada-encased toes, makes for a talking point and can break the ice when it comes to introductions. (I am not homosexual myself, but I think that it’s right to keep one’s hand in.)
My informant does not follow the gentlemen into the establishment, waiting outside until they are done, but he tells me that he likes to imagine their smooth well-fed bodies doing the business with the laity of Rome and the great community of Christendom beyond, the latter in town as tourists and drinking up the atmosphere.
Urbi et orbi, he comments wryly.
I was hoping that Popes Я Us could deny all this filthy talk and put my mind at rest. I am still confident that they will. If half of it is true, and it becomes generally known, the Church will be in an appalling predicament. In the meantime we owe it to His Holiness to maintain silence: sceptical but reverent. These secrets, whether true or tittle-tattle, are safe with me.