Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 featured excerpts from an interview with former Vatican priest Krzysztof Charamsa who came out as a partnered gay man before the 2015 Synod on the Family.
The previous post covered Charamsa’s thoughts on the Vatican’s panic over “gender ideology,” the deficiency at the Vatican of knowledge about gender and sexuality, church officials’ odd language about homosexuality, and the roots of church leaders’ opposition to equality for LGBT people and women.
Today’s post offers excerpts from Charamsa on Pope Francis, positive aspects of theology today, and what his hopes are for LGBT Catholics. You can read the full interview in the online journal Religion and Gender by clicking here. To read more about Charamsa’s story, click here.
Thoughts on Pope Francis
Charamsa said he is disappointed with Pope Francis who, in his first apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, expressed a desire to engage reality rather than abstractions but has done the opposite when it comes to gender and sexuality. Charamsa opined:
“Pope Francis is an old, homophobic man. Homophobic in a quotidian sense, as some- thing which, in Catholic or Christian families, is transmitted through the mother, the grandmother. He for sure has inherited this mentality, but my hope at the beginning of his pontificate was that he would be able, as a man of state, in a new position, to open his mind. He was a great fan of Cardinal Carlo M. Martini, the Archbishop of Milan, who has reflected on sexual minorities positively. But when you begin a new job, you must have collaborators. The pope cannot study gender studies, he cannot read much… he needs institutions who do that for him. So when collaborators come to this pope and say, ‘Gays are Nazis’, day after day, it is easy to think that perhaps it is true, just like his grandmother used to say bad things about these gays.”
Charamsa also described Francis as “a political man without collaborators” who may have simply admitted he can do nothing to move the church forward on homosexuality. This admission, Charamsa said, would be “the victory of the masculinist system of the Vatican” that separates out ideas from reality.
This calculation may also explain why Pope Francis did not condemn anti-LGBT criminalization laws while in Uganda, a failure to act that Charamsa called “horrible.” For Charamsa, the political calculations were the primary if not sole intention behind the Havana Declaration,signed by Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, that blasted marriage equality and other LGBT rights.
Redeeming a Theology of the Body?
Charamsa offered interesting thoughts about how theological currents on anthropology, sexuality, and gender could be redeemed by pro-equality advocates:
“I think it is possible to reconstruct a Catholic theology of body that takes the complexity of LGBTIQ issues into account. For theology this would be an enrichment that reforms our traditional, heteronormative, vision of marriage, which, in the light of Christian sources, must be open also for same sex couples. God has created us for love and this is an essential message for our faith, revealed in Genesis. In the confrontation with gender studies, we must correct many aspects of traditional doctrine about marriage.”
The problem today is not necessarily with a theology of the body, as a more embodied theology would be healthy, but the ways by which gender complementarity and arguments about bodies’ shapes and functions are taken to ideological extremes. Charamsa said this is “a very dangerous ideological intervention” that “does not permit reflection about modern advances in knowledge and human rights, sexual human rights”:
“We have closed our eyes for a very complex and mysterious identity, which is a human person, when we shield ecclesial reflection from the development of modern knowledge. This is a reduction of the human body to something immutable and prefixed. We have canceled the dynamic of knowledge and human reason and impose our partial historical visions as universal and eternal. This has been our error many times in the past, and we continue it today.”
But theology of the body could become beneficial if it were to positively engage contemporary knowledge and allow for a little more epistemological humility. Charamsa rejects outright, however, complementarity that is being used in the war against “gender ideology.”
Dangers of the Present Moment
The dangers with an ideological war against “gender ideology” is that the goal is to “ridiculize, present as inferior, and then destroy” people either psychologically or even physically. Charamsa expounded:
“So the Islamic State has its reasons to eliminate those persons who are dangerous to society, African states have their reasons to impose the death penalty for gay people. The Vatican agrees with this! For the Catholic Church, states and nations have the right to eliminate persons who are dangerous. Sexual minorities are seen as dangerous. One journalist in Amsterdam said to me: ‘Do you know that Cardinal Amato told me that two men who love each other are in society like two terrorists with a bomb?’ This cardinal was my boss in the Congregation. I don’t know his experience of homosexuality and I don’t want to know it. But this is the perception: when you design and create your enemy and stigmatize him as so dangerous, you have every right to eliminate him. And this is our homophobia. But homophobia is nothing when you think about lesbophobia or transphobia or intersexphobia.”
Hopes for the Future in Coming Out
There is hope, however, that LGBT Catholics can effectively challenge these horrific stances of some church officials. Charamsa said his decision to come out was to help move the church away from an emotional and reactive place, and he encouraged others to come out, too:
“We must compel the Church to begin dialogue and the first condition is to accept that gays exist not as object, but as subjects with dignity and without shame. In order to force the Church to consider us as human persons I think coming out is essential. It was my call and that of every gay priest. We are not criminals to exterminate. The criminal is the system that offends and eliminates us. . .The problem is that sexual minorities in the Church should begin a Stonewall Revolution, which will force the Church authorities to think and leave a paranoiac fear of LGBTIQ-persons behind.”
Charamsa also affirmed the work already underway in gender and sexuality studies as “a way of thinking that is connected to life, concrete life, to people who gain awareness of their own dignity and identity, and begin to see the possibility to be themselves.” He added:
“From a Christian point of view, one might say that this is a very Christian movement, a truly evangelical movement. This is the Gospel: ‘work in progress’ to understand our nature and our call to be and love! Because the understanding of the Gospel is made by people, concrete people who seek to understand themselves in the light of God’s revelation, but not without reason.”
Charamsa has a sense of urgency about these efforts. Unlike the Church’s later acceptance of scientific developments that it once rejected, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Church cannot fail for centuries before making a correction. Real lives are at stake, and people “can’t wait for three hundred years.”
What Charamsa’s interview revealed to me is that church officials lack any sort of foundation in sexuality and gender studies today, even while they write and pronounce on these issues. Rule by fear and panic can only lead to disaster. Even Pope Francis, it appears, is not immune from the Vatican’s machinations.
But there is also tremendous hope in Charamsa’s words. It is easier to help someone come to understand something about which they are ignorant or afraid than to heal malice in the heart. Charamsa’s courageous decision to come out and keep speaking out can be a model for gay priests and religious, and LGBT Catholics everywhere.
To read the interview in full, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 21, 2017