“The Church Needs a Stonewall Revolution”
At last month’s Gdansk conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, one of the highlights for me was a workshop by Krysztof Charamsa. This began on a strictly personal high. On entering the room, he went around and personally greeted everyone present, shaking them by the hand. By virtue of my seating, I was the last person he got to, next door to Martin Pendergast (whom he already knew). He first greeted me as “Terry”, reading my conference label, but then when Martin introduced me as “Terry Weldon”, his eyes grew wide. “Terry Weldon?” he repeated, and instead of just a simple handshake, gave me a great bearhug, saying “thank you, thank you”. (I’m not in fact sure what it was he was thanking more for, but whatever the reason, the simple fact gave me a substantial high. In my view, it is he that deserves the thanks, from all lgbt Catholics).
I’d love to report in detail on the content of his address, but alas I cannot – he began by specifically asking that it not be published, which I must respect. I think I can however, report some of the bare bones, and how his words have impacted my own thinking. Some of the talk repeated material widely reported from earlier interviews, such as his view that the process of coming out was a profoundly liberating, theological process. Also notable was the observation that for all the improvements in tone and supportive pastoral care under Francis’ papacy, the fact remains that the harsh elements of doctrine promulgated by the Pope John Paul II/Cardinal Ratzinger partnership remain unrefuted as part of the formal magisterium. Indeed, if strictly adhered to as it stands, much of this formal body of doctrine would make the current improvements in pastoral care impossible. For this reason, he concluded that the Catholic Church needs its own Stonewall moment.
It can of course be argued that by the nature of his personal journey, he is still carrying a great deal of anger directed at the Church, to the extent that he is exaggerating the harm and ignoring the good in the present state of the Church and its response to LGBT people. It is also true that one response to the harmful elements in the formal magisterium is to point out that there are different levels of Church teaching, not all equally important, and that these sexual matters are less important than might appear at face value. We must also acknowledge that some of the important shifts in pastoral care are in fact required by Amoris Laetitia, with its emphasis on conscience, discernment and accompaniment, and that given its status as an “apostolic exhortation”, Amoris Laetitia is itself contributing to and developing the magisterium.
But still. I was left with two key take aways for my own thinking. On the one hand, I was reminded of where I was when I first began blogging about lesbian and gay Catholics: taken as a whole, Catholic teaching is riddled with inherent contradictions and ambiguities. It is as wrong to assume that to conform with Church teaching lesbian and gay Catholics must simply renounce all same-sex relationships, as it is to reject the whole of Church teaching as inherently unsound. The fact is that even in the standard formal documents, there is some supportive material which needs to be more widely known and understood – along with harmful, unsound material that needs to be vigorously challenged.
On the other hand, as I was listening, my mind constantly wandered to the image embedded in Fr James Martin’s book on the Church and LGBT Catholics – “Building a Bridge”.
Any bridge connects two opposite ends. When I first began writing about Catholic teaching, I was mostly concerned with pointing out what was wrong, and how it was contradicted by things like science, history and public opinion. Later, as things began to improve, I tended to concentrate on highlighting signs of that improvement, and the more supportive elements in the magisterium.
The bridge however, requires a balance between both. To reach out to LGBT Catholics, there is a need to show them that there is a welcoming and supportive side to the Church, in doctrine as well as on the ground. But to the Church, it is also important to act as a critical friend, pointing out to those who can not yet see it, the countless ways in which elements in doctrine and practice are both deeply harmful, and unsupported by sound evidence.