by Jeffrey Tranzillo
In 1924, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two intellectually precocious, teenage university students in a homosexual relationship, murdered one of Loeb’s relatives, fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks. According to their interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy, the pair’s intellectual superiority placed them above the moral norms of ordinary men; therefore, they decided to plan and execute the perfect murder (1) as an intellectual experiment; (2) to get the widespread attention they thought their crimes deserved; (3) for the thrill of it.
In 1929, British author Patrick Hamilton published a play entitled Rope, whose two protagonists were based rather closely on Leopold and Loeb–homosexuality and all. Nearly twenty years later, Alfred Hitchcock directed and released a film adaptation of Hamilton’s play, retaining the same title, as well as hints of the homosexual element (which was all a filmmaker could get past the censors back then).
While it would be too much to claim that Hitchcock intended his version of the story as a study on the psychopathology of active homosexuals, we cannot discount entirely that the film provides us, to an extent, with such a study. For one thing, its two main characters were patterned closely on real persons, whose personalities were marred by psychological and temperamental features common to the homosexual disorder, and also by the self-destructive effects of the precipitous moral decline that comes with acting on the disorder. Secondly, Hitchcock had a predilection for exploring, in his films, the hidden, sometimes tortured depths of the human psychology. Rope is no exception.
While certain psychological conclusions we might draw from the film could pertain to people other than active homosexuals, they nevertheless correspond quite well with what we are learning from Christian psychologists about the typical personality traits and behaviors of homosexually active persons. We will therefore use the film as a point of departure for highlighting some of them. We will then consider the film’s relevance to the problem of clerical sexual abuse in the Church. First, a brief overview of the film.
Synopsis of ROPE
Brandon Shaw and Philip Morgan are wealthy, young Harvard graduates sharing an apartment in Manhattan. Brandon is steely, manipulative, and domineering, whereas Philip is highly emotional, completely dependent on Brandon, and submissive to his directives. Their former mentor, Rupert Cadell, had indoctrinated them with his Hitlerian take on Nietzsche’s Superman. Intellectually and culturally superior individuals are not bound by the moral laws that govern the masses, he told them. It is therefore the privilege of these individuals to murder inferior human beings. For most men, murder would be a crime; however, the lofty few are capable of turning that ordinarily base act into an art.
Whereas Rupert is all talk, his two protégés aim to prove their greatness by carrying out an actual murder, the perfect murder. They choose, as “the perfect victim,” a former classmate, David Kentley: “The Davids of this world merely occupy space,” Brandon declares. The film opens with Philip strangling David with a rope, while Brandon supports the victim. They then throw the corpse into a large, wooden chest.
In order to enhance the “aesthetic” quality of the murder, and also to heighten the danger of getting caught (which Brandon thinks can’t happen, since his superior intellect has planned and executed everything perfectly), Brandon invited the victim’s parents and two former classmates–including David’s prospective spouse–to attend a dinner party at the apartment the night of the murder. He also invited Rupert Cadell. The host gave them all the impression that David would be coming as well.
To turn this “work of art” into a masterpiece, Brandon got the idea of turning the dinner party into a buffet, with the food laid out on the chest in which David’s body is laid out. The fact that the chest isn’t even locked has Philip worried, but not Brandon: it adds to the danger of getting caught.
The central topic of the dinner party is, Where is David? Brandon has a grand time playing dumb, offering possible explanations for David’s absence, mendaciously manipulating the guests, and even dropping subtle hints about what happened. Philip, on the other hand, is an emotional wreck, intent on getting drunk. After all the guests had left the party, Rupert, suspicious of his former pupils, returned to try and unravel the mystery of David’s absence. When he succeeded, he summoned the police.
Rope and the Psychopathology of the Homosexual Disorder
Let us now examine some of the basic characteristics of the homosexual profile presented subtly, but quite accurately, in Rope.
Rope is replete with allusions to the mock complementarity of homosexual “couples.” Brandon (patterned on Loeb) clearly plays the part of the stereotypical man in his relationship with Philip (patterned on Leonard), dominating him to the point of making every decision for him about his own life. Philip, on the other hand, plays the part of the stereotypical woman–weak, emotional, easily upset, submissive, and utterly reliant on Brandon for everything.
Visibly shaken by their bloody deed, Philip wishes the victim had been someone other than David. “Whom would you have preferred?” Brandon asks. “You, perhaps,” Philip replies. “You frighten me. You always have.” This moment of truth was clearly out of character for Philip, and Brandon icily brings him back into line–an early indication of trouble in “paradise.” Though Brandon is a cold, calculating, and threatening figure, Philip suggests that this is part of his “charm.” Philip sees in him the “strong” and “manly” qualities that he perceives as lacking in himself, this forming the basis of his erotic attraction to Brandon.
For his part, Brandon, in addition to his need to be domineering, feared, and idolized, acknowledges that he has “always wished for more artistic talent.” So, the basis for his erotic attraction to Philip is the latter’s artistic ability, his servility, and his awe of Brandon. “You just astound me, as always,” Philip tells him.
Clearly, the homosexual “relationship” is not complementary at all, but mutually parasitic. Each man feeds off the other in order to try and satisfy his twisted emotional and psychological needs. Narcissistic to its core, this relationship replaces the truth of male-female complementarity–which is ontologically constituted, hence objectively real–with the superstition that “like cures like.” By sexually “possessing” a man who has the qualities that the other man lacks but wants for himself, he supposes that he will come to possess these qualities as well, without any further effort on his part. Active homosexuals thus pervert the meaning of a married man and woman’s forming one body, whereby his masculinity and her femininity are perfected in the reciprocal gift of their persons to each other.
It is easy to see how Nietzsche’s philosophy would feed the narcissistic, homosexual ego and encourage its irresponsible, outward expression. Brandon never tires of trying to convince himself–and everyone else–that he personifies Nietzsche’s concept of the Superman, a creative genius who transcends the weakness of ordinary men by dispensing with their traditional values and creating his own norms of existence. The new norms reflect and foster his superiority. The Superman rejects any virtue or vice that signifies weakness. He is therefore utterly free to express his intellectual prowess, will, physical strength, instincts, and passions in any way that signifies, to him, his strength and power. He confers his own meaning on the world.
For example, when Philip asked Brandon how he felt “during it”–ostensibly meaning the murder, but probably hinting at their sodomy as well–he replied that he didn’t feel much of anything, until the body went limp. Then he “felt tremendously exhilarated.” Why? Because in violently asserting his dominance over another person until the latter succumbed, he experienced the “thrill” of transgressing a boundary that “inferior” men are forbidden to cross. Having “transcended” the ordinary, Brandon proved himself superior to the masses. The only crime, he says, is making a mistake, which is a sign of weakness, ordinariness. The “mistake,” in this case, would be that something does not go as planned, so that he and Philip fail or get caught.
Though Philip doesn’t really fit the Superman mold, Brandon insists that he won’t let either of them be weak. Philip’s “weakness” is that, unlike Brandon, he still evinces a glimmer of conscience over what they’ve done. Nietzsche would classify such weakness as belonging to “slave morality,” as opposed to “master morality.” This distinction aptly signifies the master-slave nature of Brandon and Philip’s debased relationship, which reflects the narcissistic structure of homosexual relationships in general.
Brandon became intoxicated with an overwhelming sense of power after the murder. He felt that “the power to kill can be just as satisfying as the power to create.” He and Philip killed for the sake of killing, for the danger it entailed, and for the experiment of doing it, and yet they were still “truly and wonderfully alive.” In Nietzschean terms, they exercised their “will to power,” having conferred on life the meaning they wanted it to have, thus affirming it by their own strength. Only the inferior man needs to posit a God who supplies life’s meaning. Implicitly, the superior man is God, having power over life and death.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Brandon decided to give his dinner party a pseudo-religious significance. Placing candelabras on the chest containing David’s body, he and Philip would turn it into “a ceremonial altar” on which to heap “the foods for our sacrificial feast.” Brandon had affirmed his own superiority by “sacrificing” David’s life.
In contrast to Brandon’s intoxication with the “power” of evil, Philip tries to intoxicate himself with alcohol, so as to ease the pain of his guilt. Even more, he wants to ease his fear of getting caught. That he is concerned more about himself than about the man he murdered exposes his own brand of narcissism. For his part, Brandon is absolutely indifferent to the fact that he murdered another human being, for that constituted, for him, his supreme act of self-affirmation.
The active homosexual’s sense of superiority derives from the psychological mechanism of overcompensation, by which he tries to suppress his overwhelming sense of inferiority. It is this that fuels his inordinate need for affirmation. That’s why Brandon had to invite Rupert to the dinner party: Cadell was the one person brilliant enough to unravel the murder. Once he did, Brandon supposed his former mentor would shower him with the praises he craved. Rupert would surely appreciate the artistic angle of the murder.
Still, the murderers are superior even to him, for Brandon surmised that Rupert would not have had the “courage” to participate in the murder itself. So, on the one hand, Brandon tries to suppress his feelings of inferiority by contriving reasons for affirming his own superiority: he is courageous, Rupert is not. Yet, he still wants desperately to secure Rupert’s affirmation–and perhaps also his overawed admiration, in the hope of turning Rupert into another Philip. After all, Brandon admitted to him, “you always interest me.” He was nevertheless prepared to murder Rupert, Philip, or anyone else who got in his way.
Brandon’s relentless domination of Philip was yet another, twisted, overcompensatory expression of superiority and self-affirmation. Once the guests had left and Philip was well under the influence, he inveighed against Brandon for his narcissistic boast that the evening “couldn’t have gone more beautifully.” For Philip had “a rotten evening.” Brandon warned him that he would have “a worse morning” if kept drinking. He was probably alluding to the inherently violent nature of every sodomitic relationship, and his “mastery” over Philip in theirs.
Shipwreck in the Wake of Truth
When drunken Philip realized that Rupert Cadell figured out what he and Brandon had done to David, he grabbed Brandon’s gun and pointed it at both Rupert and Brandon, saying he’d just assume kill the one as the other–Brandon sooner, in fact. “You made me do it and I hate you–I hate both of you!”
Philip blamed the others for his own actions, rather than take responsibility for them himself. Implicitly and falsely, he was denying thereby that he had acted as a free agent. Seeing himself instead as the tragic victim, he wanted to destroy in Brandon and Rupert what he hated in himself. Indeed, the inferiority complex of the active homosexual tends to express itself as an unbearable self-loathing projected onto others.
Brandon’s self-loathing expressed itself in other ways. His violent domination of Philip was an outward expression of his inner turmoil. So, too, was his constant effort to increase the risk of getting caught for his misdeeds. A part of him sought the attention that being exposed would bring him, for this would assuage his infantile self-centeredness. At the same time, however, he was secretly looking for others to punish him for what he loathed in himself, and so put an end to it.
After Rupert managed to wrestle the gun away from Philip, he opened the chest. Sickened and ashamed at seeing David’s corpse therein, he immediately renounced his Nietzschean take on life in toto.
Regardless, Brandon–having killed his own conscience, and hence impervious to a salutary sense of shame–still needed to justify himself. So, he reminded Rupert of their Nietzschean outlook, explaining that he and Philip have merely “lived what you and I have talked.” He then declared emphatically, “I knew you’d understand, because you have to, don’t you see? You have to!” True to the typical psychological profile of the active homosexual, Brandon tried to rationalize his evildoing, while pitying himself as the tragic figure that no one understands because he is somehow “different” or “special.”
Rupert’s unconditional condemnation, rather than affirmation, both of Brandon, and of the real act of murder, completely negated the “values” by which Brandon had been interpreting himself and the world. In a single instant, he lost his whole take on reality, including his false sense of identity as a “creative genius.” Whereas real meaning is grounded in the truth of being, Brandon tried futilely to define himself and the world in terms of congenial theories that temporarily satisfied the needs of his wounded ego. In the end, reality confronted the delusory lie and obliterated it.
Rope’s Sobering Lessons for the Church Today
In the light of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, we see more clearly that the moral subjectivism and the moral relativism presently overtaking the Church are eerily Nietzschean, hence foreseeably disastrous. Interestingly enough, Nietzsche described man as a rope stretched across the abyss between animal and Superman. Hitchcock’s Rope shows that when man strives to reach the “Superman” side of that abyss by dispensing with traditional–especially, Christian–values and creating new ones that give life the meaning he decides, he ends up acting more brutally than the mindless beast on the other side. For he now has at his disposal a complete, subjectivistic program for justifying his own decadence.
Heedless of this, Pope Francis and many of his bishops are encouraging wayward Catholics to confer on their egregiously sinful moral actions (including sodomy) the meaning they want them to have, based on what they “discern” their own intentions and circumstances to be. Yet, it is impossible for anyone to change, in this way, the inherently dehumanizing and depersonalizing meaning that such actions have in themselves, for they radically contradict the universal, immutable laws governing the truth and goodness of our nature, as God created it. Only when our actions respect those laws do we express ourselves through our nature in a truly human and personal way. Claims to the contrary are merely hubristic attempts to assert freedom’s absolute “right” to create the values by which it will interpret reality–so as to act–in the most egotistically congenial way: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gn 3:5).
The widespread, uncritical acceptance of this false, ultimately atheistic concept of human freedom helps explain why the Church is so inclined, nowadays, to tolerate and overlook the “consensual” participation of her members in mortal sin. The “god” of consent is one reason why the problem of clerical sodomy has yet to be effectively addressed.
Another reason is this: Having sacrificed the objectively true moral good on the altar of all-about-me, sodomitic priests and bishops have forsaken the intrinsically self-sacrificial meaning of both the priesthood and their own humanity. In consequence, they have each become a personified lie. Now that they are the lie they are living, they tend to express their lying nature in self-serving equivocation and mendacity. The homosexual assault cover-ups plaguing the Church are, in some measure, a result of this cult of the false self, and of the determined effort to protect it.
As Pope Francis’s summit on clerical sexual abuse approaches, Rope reminds us that sodomitic behavior is hardly as benign as the Church’s apologists for homosexuality make it out to be. If the pope is going to insist that “clericalism” explains the abuse problem, then he needs also to specify, in obedience to the truth, that homosexual narcissism is far and away the main underlying cause of this particular expression of clericalism.
As the film suggests, the active homosexual tries to mask his acute feelings of inferiority by asserting his “superiority”–his “power”–over others. This necessarily entails viewing others as inferior. Dehumanizing other people in this way makes it easier (along with drugs and alcohol, in some cases) for homosexual clergy to justify their vile, impersonal sexual acts against other human beings. It is a mark of their developmental immaturity and egotistical pride that they need to prove their “superiority” chiefly by humiliating others in the basest of ways. Their looking down on others from on high explains why they tend to remain coldly indifferent to their victims when finally caught. In fact, these clergy often portray themselves as the “real” victims, while blaming those they victimized, if not others as well.The problem of clerical homosexual abuse will not go away on its own. When homosexual clerics transgress the clear and absolute moral boundary proscribing such behavior, and thus act in a radically perverted way against persons weaker than they–or even against persons who consent to it willingly–they destroy the life of supernatural charity in their own soul. It often happens that the devil fills the void by inciting in them a sense of prideful exhilaration at their evildoing, seemingly accomplished with impunity. The risk of their getting caught provides them with an additional thrill. Having prevailed over all the dangers and obstacles, they can affirm their “superiority.” They are “gods,” who have glorified themselves by sacrificing, to themselves, the true physical, moral, and spiritual good–and perhaps also the innocence–of other persons. Their psychological need to do this is insatiable, while the darkening of their mind and the deformation of their will through the habit of perverted sexual behavior guarantees they will seek opportunities to satisfy that need. Clerical homosexual abuse is therefore a self-perpetuating, death-dealing, ecclesial plague.
Actively homosexual clerics show contempt not only for their “inferiors,” but also for God as He has actually revealed Himself. To bury the guilt of their troubled conscience, they must fabricate an idol–a nonjudgmental, made-and-loves-me-this-way god, whose “mercy” is sickeningly saccharine and superfluous. But even the affirmation of their own idol–a projection of their egotistical needs–cannot fully relieve their inner sense of inferiority. That’s one reason why they must “network.” The homosexual network serves as an insular society of mutual admiration. This makes the grandiose, though delusional, attitude of “gay pride” much easier for its members to assume, at least for a time. Yet, if one member begins to see in any of the others what he has always hated secretly in himself, he will quickly turn his self-hatred on that person.
As the foregoing suggests, the contempt that actively homosexual clerics show for God and neighbor is ultimately an expression of self-contempt, projected and visited on others. The fundamental human need–indeed, vocation–to love and to be loved, and thereby to love oneself, has become radically twisted in them, so that they express it falsely and perversely. The intrinsic lovelessness of active homosexuality is absolutely opposed to the very essence of Christianity, and of God Himself. Inevitably, this opposition turns the individual soul into a battlefield, on which either homosexual hate or, by the grace of God, Christian love will finally prevail. The inner battle of the sodomite who habitually resists God’s gracious initiatives cannot but express itself outwardly in a way that reflects his resistance. No rapprochement is ever possible, therefore, between inherently narcissistic, active homosexuality and the Christian life. The two cannot reconcile and coexist, for the abyss between hell and heaven is unbridgeable.
This is not to say that active homosexuals–Catholic ones, in particular–are incapable of performing any good actions at all. Whatever good they might do, in cooperation with actual grace, might even dispose them toward conversion, with God’s gracious help; however, as they are presently deprived of sanctifying grace, and so also of the infused theological virtue of charity, their divinely assisted good acts cannot reach the supernatural level. Such acts are consequently not meritorious unto eternal life. They will become so only when the mortal sinner has been restored to the state of grace by sincere repentance, sacramental confession, and amendment of life.
In order for the Church to remain true to her mission as “a sign and a safeguard of the transcendence of the human person” (Gaudium et Spes, 76), she cannot tolerate the evil of sodomy. Nor can she give the scandalous impression of doing so by allowing active homosexuals to participate in any of her ministries. Rather, she must teach forthrightly about sodomy’s deadly nature, help restore those enslaved to it to the life of grace, and sacramentally fortify Catholics to avoid this and every other sin.
Those bishops and priests who are going so far as to “welcome” sodomitic relationships into the Church–sometimes even to the point of rationalizing and endorsing their existence–have cast Christ out of the sanctuary and set up their own abomination of desolation in His place. While their idolatry is comprehensively destructive, it represents a particularly direct and virulent attack against marriage and the family, as instituted by God. While probably an incidental detail, it is nonetheless interesting that the “perfect” victim in Rope was the only character serious about getting married. Sodomites, on the other hand, despise, undermine, and attack true marriage, both in principle and in practice. To attack the institution is to attack God Himself, its Author. Indeed, the love of spouses for each other and for their children, in the unity of the family, is iconic (1) of God’s love for His Church; (2) of His intra-Trinitarian life and love; and (3) of the mystical marriage of Christ, the eternal Bridegroom, and the sanctified members of the Church, His Bride, in the Eucharistic feast. In consequence, the Catholic, above all, who deliberately chooses the act of sodomy, wills, necessarily, to mock these iconic realities in the most defiant and contemptuous way, as this belongs to the very nature of the object willed.
So, Rope has it exactly right: sodomy, or idolatry of self, is intrinsically godless. It brutally defiles and chokes off the life of the soul, whose inexorable tendency is, consequently, to express itself outwardly in increasingly violent and deadly ways, choking the life out of its victims. The essentially corrupt and corrupting nature of the sodomitic act turns the soul into a demonic stronghold, from which it is most difficult for the person to escape. This is partly due to the fact that a demonic influence had long been exploiting antecedent psychological and emotional pathologies that were already disposing him toward the choice for sodomy.
If, unlike Rope, the upcoming Vatican summit doesn’t get it exactly right, by properly diagnosing the inherently violent and deadly nature of the sin of sodomy, so as to address truthfully, and to extirpate completely, the main source of clerical sexual abuse in the Church, then the pope and the bishops will be in no position whatsoever to deny their damnable complicity in all the cases of homosexual abuse that they will have consequently allowed to happen. Nor will they be able to deny their damnable complicity in the tireless efforts of the homosexual network to corrupt and destroy the Church. For they can no longer honestly and reasonably deny the plain truth about the nature and scope of clerical homosexual abuse and corruption in the Church.
Seventy years ago, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope depicted accurately the psychological, the emotional, the intellectual, the volitional, the moral, and, implicitly, even the spiritual impact of sodomy on the person and, consequently, on how he relates to others. Sodomitic behavior is always comprehensively destructive. Precisely because of the film’s accuracy, borne out both clinically and by the present abuse crisis in the Church, it testifies clearly and credibly to the fact that there is absolutely no place in the Church for those who stubbornly persist in their sodomitic ways. The pope and the bishops have therefore no excuse for lagging so far behind the times, and for ignoring, so far, its obvious signs.