“I can’t follow Jesus from the closet,” said Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa, the former Vatican official fired after he publicly came out as gay in October. Charamsa added, “The church needs a Stonewall,” referring to the 1960’s protests outside a New York gay bar of that name which many people identify as the start of the modern gay liberation movement.
Though fired from his job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and now suspended as a priest by his home diocese in Poland, Charamsa was clear in a Religion News Service interview that he has no regrets:
” ‘I understood that [being closeted and being in a relationship] had nothing to do with reality. . .A moment arrived and I couldn’t do it anymore.”
That moment, just days before the Synod on the Family, arrived following the priest’s frustrated attempts to reform the church from within. Working in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Charamsa said he “couldn’t cast doubt on the strategy of homophobia” and “could not even use the word ‘homophobia’. ”
New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo commented in the article that gay priests who come out usually meet with support from parishioners and friends:
“Priests I know who have come out have often done it gradually and more privately. . .[Publicly] it’s always been received with great support.”
” ‘Our fear now is that his coming out, and the way he came out, will build a wall, not a bridge.’ “
Charamsa, however, was clear that his coming out was indeed a protest. Despite disagreements over the details, LGBT advocates with whom he consulted were overwhelmingly supportive of his decision. Like any protest, there have been tremendous costs and Charamsa reported that family members in Poland are suffering, too, including the bullying of his brother’s children by their peers at school.
Commenting on the Synod itself, Charamsa said Vatican staff “entered into panic” in response to the 2014 Extraordinary Synod’s more welcoming tone towards lesbian and gay people. Describing this year’s deliberations as “inhuman theater,” he added to his initial criticism of homophobic comments by Cardinal Robert Sarah:
” ‘Sarah should have been reported (to the police) for his statements, but the synod didn’t say anything. . .He’s only one expression of a mentality; they think like him, because they didn’t contradict him. It’s a mentality and a paranoid vision of homosexuals.’ “
Charamsa’s hope is in Pope Francis who can, in the priest’s words, “turn on a light in the hearts of bishops” to promote reform. He is clear, however, that Francis must act concretely for inclusion and not just speak merciful words. The gay priest’s own target for reform is quite clear: institutional homophobia.
In an extensive interview with The Washington Post, Charamsa describes growing up Catholic in Poland. He said that coming to understand his own identity was “like hell,” asking God for years to cure him of this illness. He explained to AFP:
” ‘The Catholic Church doesn’t actually kill people, but it kills them psychologically. . .It kills them with its backward stance, with its reject, contempt and constant preaching against homosexuals.’ “
Charamsa said church teaching on homosexuality is “like saying Earth is flat” and that these teachings are similar to religious fundamentalism. Speaking specifically about church leaders’ silence when it comes to anti-LGBTQI laws, Charamsa claimed the church was pleased by criminalization as a confirmation of its own teachings. He said further:
” ‘As long as [the church] does not openly reject and condemn this criminalisation, it is an accomplice of anti-homosexual terror.’ “
Krzysztof Charamsa’s decision to come out as a gay priest was a personal one, and he should be applauded for having the integrity such an act entails, particularly with the consequences he has faced. Regardless of how one feels about Charama’s own coming out announcement and the detail that he has had a partner, his points about institutional homophobia ring true. For his decision to speak out publicly against this homophobia, all LGBT Catholics and their allies can be most grateful.
Next week, Pope Francis has an opportunity to condemn LGBTQI criminalization and clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world are asking Francis to send a clear message with the #PopeSpeakOut campaign.
To send a message to Pope Francis and add your voice to the many Catholics openly critical of institutionalized homophobia, visit the campaign’s website by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry