I take it back. There was no hoax—certainly nothing that required apology from me. In hindsight, my haste to correct a supposed error was premature. As things stand, it looks as if the Vatican, embarrassed by bad publicity, reneged on its agreement with the European Society of Aesthetic Gynecologists [ESAG].
Backspace to Jay Akbar’s column in The Daily Mail, “Secrets of the G-Spot Unraveled . . . . by the Vatican: Catholic university overseen by the Catholic Church to host conference about the secrets of the female body.” A provocative title to be sure, but not a deceitful one. Organized by the ESAG, the conference was advertised as taking place at the Patristic Institute this coming April. You can view a pdf. of its schedule of presentations and international speakers here.
Akbar’s article appeared online on December 11th. My reaction to it appeared on The Federalist ten days later. Acting in good faith after an email from the Institute disclaiming association with ESAG, The Federalist removed my essay “Theology of the Clitoris?” the day after it appeared. This, while ESAG still cited the Institute on its Facebook page. (Later the following day the conference venue was downgraded to simply Rome.)
If Akbar’s report was based on a hoax, why is the original Daily Mail report of the conference still available online? Did the Vatican fail to contact a major British tabloid with millions of European readers before refuting a less visible essay in The Federalist? Not likely. Or had The Daily Mail been skeptical of the Vatican’s disclaimer? If no agreement with the Patristic Institute had been in the offing, why is Dr. Bader, president of ESAG, speaking of legal action?
Lastly, is it even creditable that ESAG would risk professional prestige in a burgeoning, lucrative field by announcing a fake booking for a conference already organized and speakers confirmed?
Enter the pseudonymous Bear of St. Corbinian’s Bear and Oakes Spalding of Mahound’s Paradise, the keen spirits behind two of the most insightful, witty sites in the Catholic blogosphere. I know neither one of these writers personally; know nothing about them, not even the identity of the Bear. I only know that they share an eye for gall and wormwood, a gift of immense value in low times and among high-placed dissemblers.
The intrepid Bear, with the instincts of a solid journalist, had the good sense to contact ESAG. Had a contract been signed? At the moment, all we know—thanks to Bear’s inquisitiveness and tenacity—is that Dr. Bader had been sufficiently assured of the booking that he promoted it in the press, on social media, and on ESAG’s website. Angered by what he sees as a mendacious exercise in seller’s regret, Bader said he has “evidence and documents” to disprove Vatican disavowal. Read the physician’s initial rejoinder in full on St. Corbinian’s Bear. Correspondence between them continues. Bear will quite likely post whatever additional disclosures come from the ESAG for the press.
Stay tuned. In Bear’s own words: “This stinks like week old salmon.”
Oakes Spalding, applying the substance of Bear’s investigative initiative, walks through the possible scenarios at work in “Gynogate: Is the Vatican Lying?” It is an instructive read, one that raises the farcical old ghost of a Nixonian cover-up.
Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See’s press office, denied that “such a conference” had anything to do with any Vatican institution. He pulled his hems back from ESAG’s promotional material even though it mainly drew on the Institute’s own advertising. The Institute solicits “meetings at the international level,” and markets its various conference facilities in terms of proximity to the historic city center and locates itself close to the left arm of the colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica. Its website boasts—in addition to restaurant, catering, and Wi-Fi services—the quietude of property “surrounded by a green area that separates the conference environment from the outside noise of the city.” In light of the Institute’s own boosterism, Fr. Lombardi’s umbrage at EASG’s use of the Basilica as a logo for the conference and reference to the Vatican Gardens falls flat.
On the face of things right now, it is difficult to come to any conclusion other than the obvious: Vatican disclaimer is a disingenuous exercise in rug-pulling designed to save face. Or as Robert Conquest put it in regard to weightier matters: “ . . . mistaken bureaucratic decisions do not undermine bureaucracy; on the contrary, the resulting trouble requires further bureaucratic effort.”