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?”