Alturi catches up with former Vatican official Krzysztof Charamsa, who, since coming out and being promptly fired in 2015, has been quietly stirring up the Catholic Church’s next ideological evolution in his second career as an independent scholar, writer, and speaker.
By Jo Moses
Those who leave the Catholic Church for ideological reasons will often fall back on the same sentiments, sentiments that the Church, maybe even organized religion as a whole, is stodgy and oppressive, old and outdated, and reliant on an immutable doctrine that in 2022 would be considered offensive. Former Catholic priest and Vatican official Krzysztof Charamsa wants to disrupt this idea. He would tell you that it is wrong, but it’s also holding back the next ideological revolution in the Catholic Church and stifling theological criticism from LGBT Catholics. In 2015 Charamsa made international headlines when he came out as a gay man on the eve of the Bishop’s Synod on the Family and was promptly fired from all Church positions. What most people don’t know is that since 2015 Charamsa has taken to theological academia, writing books and papers and leading LGBT allies from professors to priests in kicking off the next big revolution in Catholic thought since Copernicus and Galileo forced the Church to admit that the Earth revolves around the Sun.
Most important about Charamsa’s advocacy is that he diverges from the current strategy of many activist groups with respect to the Catholic Church simply because he firmly believes that the Catholic Church can change, and that change should be forced by activists effectively and urgently. Shortly after coming out, he wrote an autobiography, “The Cornerstone: My Rebellion against the Hypocrisy of the Church,” and he recently collaborated in the publication of the academic paper, “Academic Statement on the Ethics of Free and Faithful Same-Sex Relationships” written for Wijngaard’s Institute for Catholic Research and co-signed by 68 prominent doctoral scholars of theology. (The link to Charamsa’s foreword can be found at the bottom of this article.) Charamsa argues that despite the Church’s reluctance to change and the slow pace of the changes that have taken place, changes indeed have occurred, and a reversal of the Church’s position on LGBT people is bound to be next.
Though many are skeptical of the possibility of such a fundamental shift, Charamsa wants LGBT Catholics to fight for change. It is possible because it has happened before. “Catholicism can grow in understanding of something which people may once have been thought of as certain,” writes Charamsa, “just as in the past, it seemed unimaginable that the discoveries of the Roman Catholic Nicolaus Copernicus and the Anglican Charles Darwin could be compatible with the truth of the Christian faith.” After all, if an institution can change its position on whether something so fundamental to the human experience as evolution is real, it can indeed change its position on whether it is acceptable to be gay.
Suppose any change is to be made regarding the treatment of LGBT Catholics. In that case, says Charamsa, significant changes to the approach of LGBT advocates must be made, the first being an acknowledgment that the current treatment of LGBT people by Pope Francis is a problem. As it stands today, same-sex activity is classified as a sin in the eyes of the Catholic Church, and homosexuality itself bears the official label of being “intrinsically disordered.” Despite this, many people view the Catholic Church today as being under gay-friendly management. This is due to the masterful media tactics of Pope Francis, who Charamsa accuses of having “reinforced the homophobic and transphobic laws of the church, but at the same time [having] developed a process of non-official communicative propaganda.” For every vague assurance from Pope Frances that “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has goodwill, then who am I to judge him?” there have been twice as many less-publicized affirmations of the Church’s current stances on LGBT issues from the insistence that same-sex marriage “disfigures God’s plan for creation” and comparisons of gender theory to nuclear arms. The hypocrisy is obvious to Charamsa, who says that if the Pope had a genuine desire to welcome gay Catholics, “there would already have been official studies and recognition of the Church’s centuries-old errors, discriminations, and persecutions regarding non-heterosexual orientations.”
Despite this lack of action on the part of Pope Francis, his performative gestures have placated the LGBT movement to such a degree that in 2013 The Advocate went so far as to name the Pope their Person of the Year. According to Charamsa, such successful manipulation of his image has so far “neutralized the necessary revolution of LGBTIQ people against homo(trans-)phobia of the Catholic Church.”
Charamsa explains it thus: “The real change in the Catholic Church’s doctrine depends on pressure from LGBTIQ persons, women, etc., and today this real pressure on the Catholic Church doesn’t exist.” LGBT Catholics must expect better – and Charamsa believes that such a reevaluation of the possibilities for LGBT people in the eyes of the Church is the most important part of the coming ideological revolution.
But even for an ardent believer, the experience of being an LGBT person in the Catholic Church might be enough to put a person off Charamsa’s approach of changing the system from the inside. Charamsa acknowledges this pain, and he believes that leaving the Church can be just as much of a protest as staying. But leaving, emphasizes Charamsa, must really mean leaving:
“Leaving the Church can be a courageous act of pressure. However, leaving the faith must be done well. For Catholics, there is only one way to leave the faith: a public act of apostasy. If by ‘leaving the faith’ you mean no longer going to church, that is totally ineffective, and it is not so great a problem for the Catholic Church as people think. But unfortunately, it is the most common case among LGBTIQ people, tired, offended, and despised by the homophobic laws of the Church. Although they do not go to church (they leave the ‘practice of the faith’), they continue to be members of this dangerous homophobic and misogynist organization – they just retire from its activities. Still, they continue to support it with their own formal belonging.”
When Krzysztof Charamsa came out on the eve of the Synod on the Family, he wanted to demonstrate what was needed for change. Most people, Charamsa explained, seemed content that evening to wait for Pope Francis’ offhand remarks, ideological crumbs support for the LGBT community. After Charamsa came out, many people were content to hope that one radical act, like a Vatican official coming out as gay, might spark the fire of change, but this was not to be so. Since 2015 the positive public remarks on the LGBT community from Pope Francis have increased in frequency, but it is clear that he does not want to change the actual policies of the Church. And this is what Charamsa wants people to remember: we cannot rely on the whims of a manipulative Pope to improve the status of LGBT people in the Catholic Church, only a revolution in the soul of the LGBT community, a recognition that we deserve better and a real commitment to demand better will. Action needs to be taken, says Charamsa: “Massive ‘coming outs’ of Catholic priests, nuns and lay people are needed to force this Pope to end homophobic doctrines and laws of the Church. We cannot passively wait for a better future, we must demand, with the same force of the Stonewall protests, that the Pope initiate the real changes in the Catholic Church.” Popes of ages past have changed the Church’s position on many controversial issues, from heliocentricity to evolution, so Charamsa is confident that more change will come – but he also knows it’s up to millions of LGBT Catholics to decide when.
- Find Krzysztof Charamsa’s work at kcharamsa.com
- Read his foreword to the “Academic Statement on the Ethics of Free and Faithful Same-Sex Relationships”
- Follow him on Twitter @KOCharamsa
- Follow him on Instagram @krzysztof_charamsa
- Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/k.charamsa
Leave a Reply