Just as the fathers of the Roman Catholic Church were getting ready to elect a new pope, the Independent, a respected UK newspaper, reported that the Vatican had purchased a $30 million share of a Roman apartment block that houses the Europa Multiclub, reputed to be Europe's most famous gay sauna.
The newspaper published an article two days before the papal election stating that the holy fathers had purchased the property in 2008, including the club and 19 Vatican apartments, many of which house priests. One of the church's top cardinals, Ivan Dias, head of the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples, lives in a 12-room apartment "yards from the ground floor entrance to the steamy flesh pot," the newspaper said. Dias voted in last month's papal election.
It's as if the church has denied sex so aggressively and for so long, the association is now impossible to miss. From what I'm learning about the Catholic leadership's philosophy of sex, male homosexuality is considered so dangerous because it's an allegedly impossible temptation to resist. I guess that idea would extend all the way to the Vatican's real estate investment team.
Visiting the club's website, I learned that Europa Multiclub (EMC) is connected to "the largest gay Italian organization, working to uphold the civil rights of homosexuals, in particular their right to demonstrate their personal identity. We stand up against every form of racism and prejudice. EMC pays particular attention in advising members on both their physical and mental health. We also distribute information about sexual health. At EMC we want you to be yourself and respect others."
The Independent mused over whether Cardinal Dias, the church's chief of recruitment, "has popped downstairs to give spiritual guidance to the clients of the Europa Multiclub, given his belief that gays and lesbians can be cured of their 'unnatural tendencies' through the 'sacrament of penance.'"
Or maybe he just visits his neighbors to collect the rent, then stays for a smoothie, steam bath, and massage once in a while. What's funnier, the investment is a tax write-off for the Vatican. "There was further embarrassment for the Holy See when the press observed that thanks to generous tax breaks it received from the last Berlusconi government, the church will have avoided hefty payments to the Italian state," the Independent reported. "The properties are recognized as part of the Holy City."
Were I writing this in a fiction story, I would be rather pleased with myself for coming up with something so ironic. But this is not irony; irony is a literary device. This is the universe talking. And what the universe is saying is that there's a fabulous gay bathhouse right on Vatican property.
Actually, from the perspective of metaphysics, it makes sense. Jung would love this story—he would he howling with laughter. What both institutions—the Europa Multiclub and the Vatican—have in common is that women aren't welcome there. That fact may have its roots in fear, antipathy, or mistrust. The Catholic Church and its tenant have a kind of polar-opposite relationship. With the church, sex must be kept in the closet. With the EMC, everything is designed to be out of the closet. It's as if the Vatican has a geyser on the premises to help relieve the unbearable pressure of all that has been denied, and that some of its ministers so badly want.
Still, I think we can do better in terms of being real. Sexuality does not have to be a matter of extremes; a continuum with two polarities—pious and utterly wild. Most of us are somewhere between those manifestations, but where, exactly? In looking for your location on the erotic map, I don't think those are necessarily going to be helpful points of orientation.
In last month's column, I described a number of modes of sexuality that are not among the usual options told to kids. These included being friendly to sex and sexuality, the willingness to have any conversation. I also included self-sexuality (being one's own lover as a primary relationship), polyamory and nontraditional family structure (various forms of open relationship with integrity), being single, bisexuality and being gender fluid, and the option of being asexual or non-practicing.
All of these forms of relationship exist in contrast to the one permitted, sanctioned and official mode of connecting—monogamy, that is, having one partner. Remember that the definition of monogamy has changed in less than 50 years from one partner for life, to one partner as often as you feel like changing. The latter form of relationship is often called "serial monogamy," though I prefer to think of it as "serial polyamory," since it definitely involves multiple partners, but in sequence.
A few days after last month's edition came out, I received a letter from a reader that read in part: