May 4, 1889 – Francis Joseph Spellman
“You’ve heard of the three ages of man – youth, age, and you are looking wonderful.“
Back in the second Dark Ages, Cardinal Francis Spellman was a celebrated but calculating arch-conservative member of the Roman Catholic Clergy and one of the most vocal and high profile American priests of the 20th century.
He remains one of the most notorious, powerful and sexually voracious homosexuals in the Catholic Church’s history, and that’s really saying something. The politically well-connected Spellman, known as “Franny” to assorted chorus boys, was New York City’s senior ecclesiastical leader from 1939 until he kicked-the-bucket in 1967.
Of course, the Catholic Church has suppressed the documentation of Spellman’s not-so-secret gay life, even pressuring The New York Times to keep quiet. The nation’s number one newspaper, with the motto “All The News That’s Fit To Print”, censored information about him, covering up Spellman’s sexual secrets for many years, even after his death, clearly fearful of the church’s revenge if the paper didn’t fall in line. During Spellman’s reign, and decades afterward, all of New York City’s newspapers cowered before the Catholic Church. In 1950, on Spellman’s orders, the city’s department stores, owned largely by Catholics, pulled ads from the then liberal New York Post after publisher Dorothy Schiff wrote commentary critical of Spellman’s extreme right-wing positions. Schiff was eventually forced to back down.
He engaged in a very heated public fight with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1949 when she announced her opposition to providing federal funding to private religious schools:
“…a craven crusade of religious prejudice against Catholic children.”
Spellman said that Tennessee Williams was “a despicable affront to every Christian” and that Elizabeth Taylor was “morally repellent”. Anti-union, anti-Hollywood, pro-censorship, pro- war, he was vehemently anti-gay, yet he remained a big fan of Broadway musicals.
Spellman frequently criticized films he decided were immoral or indecent. He described Two-Faced Woman (1941) as “an occasion of sin and dangerous to public morals“. L’Amore (1948), an Italian film directed by Roberto Rossellini that stars Anna Magnani and Federico Fellini was called a “vile and harmful picture … a despicable affront to every Christian“, and Baby Doll (1956), written by gay Tennessee Williams and directed by Jewish Elia Kazan, was reported to be “revolting and morally repellent“. His condemnation of Forever Amber caused producer William Perlberg to publicly refuse to “bowdlerize the film to placate the Roman Catholic Church.”
Spellman was a friend of Roy Cohn (Jewish) Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy (claimed to be a Catholic) and especially Richard M. Nixon (Quaker), who Spellman supported over the Catholic John F. Kennedy in 1960. Spellman safeguarded McCarthy’s 1953 investigation of homosexuals in the federal government, and he even exchanged cross-dressing tips with J. Edgar Hoover.
During the presidential election of 1964, Spellman supported Lyndon B. Johnson over Barry Goldwater because Johnson’s proposed Higher Education Facilities Act and Economic Opportunity Act would greatly benefit the Church. He later agreed to Johnson’s requests to send priests to the Dominican Republic to tamp down anti-American sentiments following the U.S. invasion in 1965.
For Catholics, the conflict became known as “Spelly’s War” and Spellman was called the “Bob Hope of the clergy”. He met Ngo Dinh Diem, the last prime minister of the state of Vietnam, in 1950 and, favorably impressed by his strongly Catholic and anti-Communist views, promoted his career. Then Spellman disowned him before the Diem’s assassination in 1963. Spellman had urged American intervention in Vietnam since late 1954, but by the 1960s his views were strongly criticized by even his fellow religious leaders.
When Pope Paul VI visited the USA in October 1965, he rebuked Spellman’s hawkish stance and pleaded for peace before the United Nations. A group of college students protested outside his residence in December 1965 for suppressing antiwar priests. He spent Christmas 1965 visiting troops in South Vietnam. Spellman declared:
“My country, may it always be right, but right or wrong, my country“.
He described Vietnam as “Christ’s war against the Vietcong and the people of North Vietnam”. Spellman even blesses the guns which the Pope was begging the troops to put down”.
In January 1967, antiwar protestors disrupted a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Spellman’s support for the Vietnam War, and his opposition to church reform, began to undermine his clout within the church and country.
The New Yorker cartoonist Edward Sorel designed a poster in 1967 titled Pass The Lord And Praise The Ammunition, showing Spellman carrying a rifle with bayonet, but the poster was never distributed because Spellman died right after the printing. But here it is for you:
He was once invited to a prayer breakfast by President Johnson, along with Billy Graham. LBJ asked both of them what he should do next in the Vietnam War. Graham was uncomfortably silent. Spellman unhesitatingly ordered: “Bomb Them! Just bomb them!” And the President did.
Writer Michelangelo Signorile:
“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 conduct homosexual witch hunts.“
In the 1940s, Spellman had an affair with a Broadway dancer (who of us has not?) who was appearing in the musical One Touch Of Venus. 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, Spellman answered: “Who would believe it?“
Many cardinals have had books written about them, but few have become the fictionalized heroes of bestselling novels. Spellman was the thinly disguised main protagonist in The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson. It topped the bestseller list for 20 weeks, and was the most popular book, fiction or non-fiction, of 1950. It was adapted to film by Otto Preminger in 1950, nominated for six Academy Awards. The cast features Romy Schneider and John Huston, and improbably, as the man who becomes the cardinal, hot gay actor/writer, Tom Tryon.
Little Francis Spellman turns an amazing 131 years old today. Last summer, I thought saw him at The Eagle, my Portland neighborhood’s gay leather/bear bar. He looked like he had been hitting the gym. He paid no attention to me. I am decades too old for Franny.