Category Archives: Other (not saints)

Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte (1549 – 1627)

b. 5 July 1549
d. 27 August 1627

Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, full name Francesco Maria Borbone Del Monte Santa Maria was an Italian cardinal, diplomat and connoisseur of the arts, who is best remembered for his patronage of the artist Caravaggio, and other baroque artists. He served as Prefect of the Tridentine Council 1606-1616 and had (unsuccessful) ambitions of being elected Pope at the conclave of 1621. Art historians such as Posener, Frommer and Hibbard have drawn upon extant documents (principally the correspondence of Dirk van Ameyden) that suggest the strong likelihood that he was homosexual and this may have influenced his tastes in the art he commissioned, as well as damaging his prospects of assuming the papacy, Van Ameyden claiming that he displayed more than a paternal care for the boys in his charge.

Quite apart from his personal sexual proclivities, Cardinal Del Monte is just one of a series of popes and Italian Cardinals from around this period who patronized homosexual artists, and contributed to the extensive collection of frankly homoerotic art in the Vatican.

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Gay Popes: Julius II (r. 1503-13)

b. 1443
d. 1513
Julius 11 (1443-1513) positioned himself for high office during the reign of his uncle Sixtus IV. A lover of art, he patronized both Michelangelo and Raphael, and in 1506 he laid the foundation stone for the magnificent church of New St. Peters. However, Julius’ military conquests caused friction with the king of France and the German emperor. At their behest a council met in Pisa in 151 1 to consider his deposition. Arraigned as “this sodomite, covered with shameful ulcers, who has infected the church with his corruption,” Julius nonetheless managed to prevail by calling his own council, which was still in session when he died in May 1513.
Rumors that Pope Julius II (Giuliano Della Rovere, 1443-1513) was involved in numerous homosexual liaisons are reported both in Protestant polemical tracts and in official reports submitted by ambassadors from friendly Catholic powers. Although the Protestant sources must be regarded as inherently biased, the frequency of these accounts suggests that they may be accurate. Julius’s enthusiastic patronage of Michelangelo’s homoerotic depictions of the male figure also indicates that he may have fully appreciated the physical beauties of men.
Appointed Cardinal in 1471 by his uncle, Sixtus IV, Della Rovere revealed great diplomatic skill in his negotiations with various European powers. As Pope, Julius acted as a very effective general for the papal armies, and, by 1508, he recaptured the Italian region of Romagna for the Papal States. Through his patronage of various artistic projects, Julius hoped that Catholic Rome would regain and even surpass the splendor of the city at the height of the Roman Empire.
As part of his renovation of the fabric of the city, Julius ordered in 1506 that the Early Christian Basilica of Saint Peter’s be demolished and replaced by a new structure, designed by Donato Bramante (1444-1516), who was the first Renaissance architect to create structures with the sense of weight and strong physical presence of ancient Roman monuments. Bramante’s Tempietto (1502, Rome) had been the first Renaissance structure to employ ancient architectural orders in a correct fashion. For Saint Peter’s, Bramante envisioned an immense centralized structure with a Greek cross plan. Among the elements based on ancient prototypes was the saucer dome, inspired by the Pantheon, Rome (118-25).
When he undertook the construction of the New Saint Peter’s, Julius resolved that his tomb would be placed directly underneath the central dome. Michelangelo (1475-1564) envisioned a monumental funerary structure with three stories, decorated with forty-seven life-size statues. Constant changes in plans, required first by Julius and subsequently by his heirs as well as by successive popes who did not want his monument to detract from theirs, were among the many factors that inhibited the realization of the original plans. However, Michelangelo had begun by 1513 the heroic, muscular figure of Moses, which was incorporated into the truncated version of the monument assembled in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, in 1545. Of uncertain meaning, sensuous nude figures, the Rebellious Captive and Dying Captive (1513-19, both Louvre, Paris), also were created for the tomb.
By the end of 1506, Julius compelled Michelangelo to undertake the Sistine Ceiling, even though the artist did not believe that he had sufficient talent to complete this project. Over the next two years, the final program for the ceiling was developed through often heated negotiations between the Pope and the artist. The nine narrative scenes down the center of the ceiling narrate the history of creation, the fall of the human race through original sin, and the establishment of a Covenant between God and the Chosen People, led by Noah. These panels are displayed in a fictive stone framework, which seems to have the weight of Bramante’s actual structures. The figures became increasingly large in size, heroic in musculature, and dynamic in movement as work progressed from the chronologically later scenes of Noah toward the initial stages of Creation. Located approximately in the middle of the ceiling, the Creation of Adam visualizes a balance between human potential and divine power.
The program also includes enthroned figures of sibyls and prophets to the sides of the narrative panels. Sensual nude male figures are seated at the corners of the five smaller narrative panels. The meaning of these nudes is uncertain, but their homoerotic qualities cannot be denied. Insignia of the Pope’s family, including oak leaves and acorns, are displayed throughout the ceiling.

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Gay Popes: John XII (r. 955-964)

b. c. 937
d. May 14, 964

John XII (938-964) was the son of Alberic 11, the civil ruler of the eternal city, and connected to other patrician families. On being elected pope at the age of eighteen, he modeled himself on the scandalous Roman emperor Heliogabalus, holding homosexual orgies in the papal palace. To counter opposition to his rule, he invited the German ruler Otto the Great to Rome, where he was crowned emperor in 962. John was thus instrumental in establishing the Holy Roman Empire, an institution that lasted in a formal sense until 1806

John’s activities may have helped to incite the reaction of the puritanical theologian Peter Damian (1 007-1072), whose Liber Gomorrhianus is an attack against all kinds of sexual irregularities among the clergy. Under his associate Pope Gregory VII (ca. 1021-1085) reform ideas triumphed, and clerical celibacy was made obligatory for the Catholic priesthood, an injunction that remains in force to this day.

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Cardinal Francis Jopseph Spellman

b. May 4, 1889
d. December 2, 1967

Born at Whitman, Massachusetts, he became priest in 1916 in the North American College of Rome. He was parish priest in Roxbury then in Boston. He edited the magazine The Pilot. He worked at the State Secretary of the Vatican (11925-32), then was nominated bishop of Boston and later Archbishop of New York. In 1946 he was nominated Cardinal.

He was a major figure in American politics during the first half of the Cold War, and a kingmaker in New York City politics; subject of the 1984 by John Cooney, The American Pope: The Life and Times of Francis Cardinal Spellman.
The details of Spellman’s personal life are elusive. The Cardinal was known as “Telma” or “Franny” Spellman in some circles and was rumored to enjoy an active sexual and social life in New York City, with a particular fondness for Broadway musicals and their chorus boys. It was widely rumoured, for instance, that he attended a party with that other well-known closet case, J Edgar Hoover – in drag.
His biographer notes that many interviewees “took his homosexuality for granted” but has not documented his relationships. It is likely that Spellman engaged in an active yet deeply closeted life, much like that of his close personal friend Roy Cohn.
The archconservative Spellman was the epitome of the self-loathing, closeted, evil queen, working with his good friend, the closeted gay McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn, to undermine liberalism in America during the 1950s’ communist and homosexual witch hunts. The church has squelched Spellman’s not-so-secret gay life quite successfully, most notably by pressuring The New York Times to don the drag of the censor back in the 1980s. The Times today may be out front exposing every little nasty detail in the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal–a testament to both the more open discussion of such issues today and the church’s waning power in New York–but not even 20 years ago the Times was covering up Spellman’s sexual secrets many years after his death, clearly fearful of the church’s revenge if the paper didn’t fall in line. (During Spellman’s reign and long afterward, all of New York’s newspapers in fact cowered before the Catholic Church. On Spellman’s orders New York’s department stores–owned largely by Catholics–pulled ads from the then-liberal New York Post in the 1950s after publisher Dorothy Schiff wrote commentary critical of his right-wing positions; Schiff was forced to back down on her positions.)
In the original bound galleys of former Wall Street Journal reporter John Cooney’s Spellman biography, The American Pope… Spellman’s gay life was recounted in four pages that included interviews with several notable individuals who knew Spellman as a closeted homosexual. Among Cooney’s interview subjects was C.A. Tripp…
In a telephone interview with Tripp last week, he told me that his information came from a Broadway dancer in the show One Touch of Venus who had a relationship with Spellman back in the 1940s; the prelate would have his limousine pick up the dancer several nights a week and bring him back to his place. When the dancer once asked Spellman how he could get away with this, Tripp says Spellman answered, “Who would believe that?”
Signorile, Michelangelo,”Cardinal Spellman’s Dark Legacy

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Cardinal Carlo Carafa, gay cardinal.

b. 29 March 1517
d. 6 March 1561

Born in Naples, Carafa was the younger son in a powerful noble family. He became a soldier and for seventeen years took part in the bloody wars which ravaged Italy, first on the side of the Habsburg imperial armies, afterwards with French troops.

His uncle, Gian Piero Carafa was elected pope, with the name of Paul VI, and made Carlo a cardinal in 1555.

He had a long and dubious career as a mercenary soldier in Italy and Germany. He was exiled from Naples for murder and banditry and was alleged to have perpetrated the massacre of Spanish soldiers as they recuperated in a hospital in Corsica. His tenure as Cardinal Nephew was not a great success as he and Paul IV brought the Papacy to a humiliating defeat against the Spanish that nearly resulted in another Sack of Rome. Carlo’s government was unpopular in Rome and he developed a reputation for avarice, cruelty and licentiousness, as well as for sodomy.

For instance the cardinal Charles de Lorraine asked the French ambassador in Rome to report to the pope scandals concerning his nephews. In his letter he stated that the courtiers had been scandalized by what they had witnessed, “and among the culprits were openly numbered, those who were closest in blood relations to our Holy Father the pope” had engaged in “that sin so loathsome in which there is no longer a distinction between the male and the female sex.”

These rumors cannot be explained away as political slander. Already the poet Joachim du Bellay who was then in Rome, wrote a sonnet mentioning one Ascanio as the beloved of Carlo Carafa. At first the pope refused to believe the numerous and varied accusations, but he was finally convinced of their veracity, and replaced Carlo as Cardinal Nephew with Carlo’s own nephew Alfonso Carafa.

With the death of Paul IV, who had already limited a part of his power, he was imprisoned and judged by the new pope, Pius IV , for a lengthy series of crimes ranging from homicide to heresy, which also included  sodomy. Carlo was condemned and executed.

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“Not-a lesbian”, “Not a Saint”, Benedetta Carlini,Visionary Nun (1590 – 1661 )

Earlier this week, the Catholic Church marked the feast day of SS Martha and  Mary. In my post here, and in the comments thread for Kittredge Cherry’s corresponding post at Jesus in Love Blog, there was some attention given to the nature of their relationship. Were they literally “just” sisters? Was the word a euphemism for a different kind of relationship? Is it fair to call them “lesbians”?  Does it matter?
I believe that the very attempt to force people into sexual categories is a trap. This is what has created the myth in the first place of a normative heterosexual identity within an opposite sex, monogamous marriage. The truth is that in nature and in human societies the world over and in all periods of history, relationships and forms of sexual expression are bewildering in their diversity. Trying to apply modern words to historic patters is particularly dangerous, as the attempt risks burying the past in the baggage carried by those words. This was clearly illustrated for me when I read this morning about Bernadetta Carlini, an Italian visionary whose description as a “lesbian nun” clouds more than it illustrates – even though the one thing that is not contested in her story is that it featured regular sex with a woman (sometimes described as the earliest recorded instance of lesbianism in modern history).

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