The Pope's "Gay Lobby" Remark Makes Vatican Tremble

Via della Conciliazione
Via della Conciliazione
Andrea Tornielli

VATICAN CITY - The Holy See has opted for silence, following the uproar provoked by the comments attributed to Pope Francis that there is a “gay lobby" inside the Vatican.

The leaders of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Clerics, have condemned the publication of the transcript of their meeting with Pope Francis, which ended up on the website "Reflexion y Liberación" (Reflection and Liberation), without explaining how the transcript came to be published. And while voices from within the Vatican repeat that these statements cannot be attributed to the Pope, nobody has denied their content.

“The Curia is astounded that Francis is no longer able to speak freely in private without his comments being made public,” said one Vatican official. He added that while the "gay lobby" may have been frequently discussed in the past, the breaking news is that the Pope has now spoken about it, albeit maybe not in those exact terms.

On Wednesday, as he greeted more than 50,000 faithful at the General Audience, the Pope didn’t seem at all worried by the event which may well become the first media scandal of his pontificate. And he may be right not to panic, as little can be done now to change the situation. After all, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s comments on the “filth in the Church” eight years ago, just weeks before he was elected to be Pope Benedict XVI, cannot be forgotten. Neither can the “cordate”, the internal networks of power and influence within the Curia, and the Vatileaks scandal which dominated the debate, especially amongst foreign cardinals, before the most recent conclave.

There was also the case this year of the Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien who was forced to resign without participating in the conclave after admitting to inappropriate sexual conduct with junior clergy members 30 years ago.

In short, despite some indignant reactions and internal denials, it is no great mystery that this problem exists within the Vatican. According to a recently published Spanish biography, before leaving Argentina for the conclave that would elect him, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio cited “cleaning up the Curia” as one of the duties of the new pontiff. Of course, he didn’t expect that he himself -- already past his 76th birthday -- would be taking on that task.

Caught in the act

It is difficult to untangle the complicated web of overlapping accusations that circulate within the Vatican, where anonymous letters are the order of the day, and simply floating an accusation of homosexuality is the best way to destroy one’s adversary. However, it must be remembered that a few years ago, an inquiry by the Italian programme “Exit” secretly filmed a monsignor with a young boy whom he had found on the Internet. The prelate lost his job in the Curia, despite maintaining that he had chatted with the boy and invited him to his office because he was conducting a "study."

On the other hand, at times even being caught in flagrante is not enough to interrupt a burgeoning career. This was the case for the brilliant Vatican diplomat who was discovered in bed with a man and removed from the embassy where he worked -- but who nonetheless became a bishop some years later. For these obviously “protected” members of the clergy, their careers will continue uninterrupted. An accusation of homosexuality made by a cardinal against an influential bishop in the Curia will prevent the latter being appointed to an important position; but the top-secret investigation by a 007 in a habit will absolve the accused, who will then finally be promoted.

And what about the handful of young, entrepreneuring non-believers who wormed their way into the good graces of top Vatican officials via unmentionable rounds of bargaining and sexual encounters? The case of Angelo Balducci, one of the Papal Gentlemen, provided an insight into this squalid underworld when it emerged that a chorister from the Cappella Giulia choir had been procuring paid lovers for him.

The website “Venerabilis” also demonstrates the existence of a network of “homosensitive” monsignori. The site is promoted by members of the “Homosexual Roman Catholic Priests Fraternity”, a virtual group which puts in touch gay priests, some of whom work in the offices of the Roman Curia.

The Pope’s comments on this topic, like those on ecclesiastical “careerism” and the transparency of the Vatican’s finances, indicate that His Holiness is well aware what issues he must confront on the home front during his Pontificate.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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