In a notable contribution to a document on LGBT discrimination and belief for the UN Human Rights Commission, Krzysztof Charamsa lays out all the ways in which the Catholic Church actively discriminates against LGBTI Catholics. It’s not comfortable reading.
One of the key points in my own thinking about the Catholic Church and queer Catholics, came when I heard Charamsa speak at the 2019 conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups in Gdansk. Like many others, I’ve been delighted by the notable change in pastoral tone coming from the church, ever since Pope Francis took on the see of Rome. Charamsa’s talk in Gdansk however, was a sobering reminder that notwithstanding the changes in pastoral tone, core doctrines remain unchanged – and these can be extremely damaging, even dangerous, to the emotional, spiritual and even physical health of LGBT Catholics.
There are many strands to the dangerous Vatican doctrines. In his paper for the UN Human Rights Commission, he discusses in detail just one – the problem of discrimination. It is true, as he points out, that doctrine dictates its opposition to discrimination against homosexuals – but immediately qualifies that, to mean only “unjust” discrimination. What they term “just” discrimination, it turns out, includes just about all the forms of discrimination that civil law in many Western countries, aims to eliminate. This then becomes the rationale for the Vatican’s opposition to anti-discrimination in civil law.
Worse, for LGBT Catholics, is how the formulation of “just” discrimination does not only accept, but even mandates, active discrimination in the Church’s own practice. Most egregious of these of course, is Pope Benedict’s statement against the ordination of gay priests – a prohibition more recently endorsed even by Pope Francis. However, there are other, more insidious forms of discrimination, that many LGBT Catholic will not even be aware of.
For instance, there’s a clearly stated prohibition on offering premises for LGBTIQ persons to publicly pray and to form groups in the Church. Charamsa describes this prohibition:
The most eloquent expression of this fight against pastoral assistance is the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church: Homosexualitatis problema (October 1, 1986: thirty years ago!) which has effectively forbidden the pastoral care of homosexual persons. According to this document, the Vatican and local Bishops eliminate every Catholic organized pastoral care for gays, which had been done in respect for human dignity and scientific knowledge about sexual orientation.
A further prohibition that will be a surprise to many LGBT Catholics, one against even coming out and publicly affirming a gay or trans identity. This may not be as directly stated, but is implied in the argument that non-discrimination laws are not necessary – because discrimination can be avoided by simply remaining in the closet. All the evidence is that for one who has a natural same-sex orientation, acknowledging and coming to terms with this, is a path to emotional and affective maturity and growth. Several notable writers on spirituality, state that in the same way, coming out is a process even of spiritual growth. Conversely, staying in the closet and refusing to come out, is harmful to mental and emotional health – one of the many ways that Vatican doctrine is realistically described as dangerous.
Then there one further form of discrimination that I too was not aware of. This is what Charamsa describes as “the prohibition of serious and objective studies about LGBTIQ minorities in the theological field”. In effect, this is really two different forms of academic discrimination – in the fields of theology, but also of science.
In the last half-century the scientific and interdisciplinary progress about homosexuality can be consider the “Copernican revolution” in the human knowledge about LGBTIQ questions. This progress, with its hypothesis and thesis, should be investigated by the theology and by the Church for understanding the development and confronting it with theological/doctrinal position about homosexuality. This real, objective and serious confrontation was made impossible in the Church of Wojtyła and Ratzinger, and nothing has been changed by Pope Francis.
Some of these “prohibitions” will surprise many, because in some areas at least, they are clearly flouted. There are an increasing number of parishes and dioceses with strong, vibrant programs of lgbt inclusion in the life of the church, with various forms of LGBT support groups, retreats, and worship services – even including support for participation in gay pride celebrations. Many bishops, and some cardinals, endorse the value of coming out for LGBT people. However, these helpful practices are conducted not in compliance with standard doctrine, but in direct contravention of them.
The upside, which leaves me a little less disturbed by these harmful doctrines than Charamsa, is that for most people, it is pastoral practice on the ground that is more important than abstract doctrine. It is frequently pastoral practice that leads to changes in doctrine, and not the other way around. The simple fact that so many effective programs of LGBT pastoral support exist, and are growing, implies that in the long run, doctrine will inevitably change.
However, this does not change the fact that harmful doctrines are still in place. As long as they are, they will provide justification for those opponents of LGBT people, when they refuse sound support, or actively promote discrimination or outright homophobia.
Krzysztof Charamsa deserves thanks for so clearly reminding us of the problem that still remains.