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I’d love to report in detail on the content of his address, but alas I cannot – he began by specifically asking that it not be published, which I must respect.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.
Over several days at the end of May, LGBT Christians from across Europe gathered in Gdansk, Poland for the 36th Annual Conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. “Forwards in Solidarity” was the theme and Free People in Free Countries was the challenge and call.
The European Forum includes over 50 groups, with some 140 lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and other participants from 21 European countries present at the 2017 Conference. These included people from Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical, Reformed and Orthodox traditions. Observers attended from ENORB (European Network on Religion & Belief), GIN (Global Interfaith Network), and ILGA (International Lesbian & Gay Association).
In a European social context of increasing fragmentation, nationalistic and conservative political developments, the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups takes a prophetic stance in the face of oppression and discrimination within and beyond church structures. Gathering in the birthplace of the Solidarność trade union movement, was another powerfully prophetic sign.
Pointing to the 2016 campaign “Let’s give each other a Sign of Peace”, mounted by the Polish Christian network, Faith & Rainbow (Wiara i Tęcza) along with the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), the Forum’s Co-President, Wielie Elhorst said:
Posters with two hands reaching for each other, one with a rainbow bracelet, the other with rosary beads, were spread throughout the country … It was a courageous effort to make clear to the people of Poland that they need to take further steps in solidarity, to work for a society that is truly inclusive and that gives all the opportunity to participate in equality in all domains of life, to adopt laws that protect and support people to freely follow their sexual orientation and their own gender identity, without fear. How can a hand that is offered as a Sign of Peace be rejected, especially by the representatives of the churches? Rejecting the hand that is offered in Peace is rejecting people’s humanity, rejecting them as your neighbour.
The Conference included powerful testimonies from former Solidarity activist and, trans Orthodox believer, Ms. Ewa Hołuszko, and Krzysztof Charamsa, Catholic priest, previously Assistant Secretary to the International Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who ”came out” as gay and partnered in October 2015. Ms. Hołuszko spoke of the centrality of her faith both in her political struggles and her ”erasure” from Polish social prominence, following her transition. Charamsa called for a Stonewall revolution of LGBTQI visibility within Catholic Church structures.
The Conference culminated with participants joining Gdansk’s largest ever Pride Parade on, 27 May, attended by over 5,000 people, and launched for the first time by the Mayor of Gdansk. Neo-fascists picketed the Parade but were held back by a massive protective police presence, preventing violence.
It is always worth paying close attention to press interviews with Msgr Krysztof Charamsa, the Catholic theologian at the CDF who came out as both gay and partnered, on the eve of the 2015 Synod on /marriage and family. There have been several of these, initially on the occasion of his coming out, and later with the launch of his book, in the original Italian and the later translations. Sadly, as far as I am aware, none of these have yet appeared in English.
I therefore provide below, my own free translation (based on a modified Google translation), of his most recent (German) interview with Berliner Zeitung. In this post, I present the interview in full, without comment. My responses will follow, in a series of follow-up posts.
Ex-Monsignore Krzysztof Charamsa “Gott liebt mich, weil ich meinen Mann liebe”
(Translation: “God loves me, because I love my husband”)
We meet in the breakfast room of a small hotel at Hamburg main station. Krzysztof Charamsa, 44, has presented his book here. He wears a light, waisted jacket, with a blue handkerchief, if I remember correctly. A white shirt. Blue jeans. He looks very elegant. The most striking however is orange glasses. Krzysztof Charamsa laughs and loves to cry. I had not imagined the Grand Inquisitor of the Catholic Church so. Not even one of his staff. Krzysztof Charamsa is a Pole, but speaks German. Very rarely does he search for a word.
What is Spinning?
This is my sport: cycling in the gym. At the bottom I am struggling, everything is going through my head. I can think clearly.
One does not step forward. This is your favourite sport?
It is like liberation. You kick wildly into the pedals. They sweat. You are exhausted. But you do not have to worry about anything. Your head is free. It hits the spot.
That’s why you wrote a book about the “immutability of God”.
My dissertation. At that time I did not know Spinning. I was looking for security, for a solid foundation. It seemed to me to offer me a God who is self-sufficient. This was a God who does not lean toward his creature. No God of friendship, no God in the world, in history. A very sad image of God, I find today. I’ve been thinking about why we’re going to suffer during my studies. Where we have a gracious God. That was my determining question. I have no answer. But today I think it was my homosexuality, my suffering for it, which made suffering such a big subject. I did not know anything about the pleasures of love, nor of gay love.
When masturbating did you have homosexual fantasies?
That was not nice?
I was anxious. I spent my puberty in communist Poland, in the Catholic Church. Both hyper-homophobic facilities! With whom could I have spoken? How? I had no words for it. I had feelings of guilt. I would have had them, even if I had been heterosexual. But my gay fantasies increased my insecurity.
You were ten, eleven years in Hamburg. You must have seen homosexuals at least at the Hauptbahnhof.
I did not see them. Because I could not see them. In the world I lived in, there were no homosexuals. People just did not talk about them. They did not exist. As one says in Chechnya today: homosexuals can not be suppressed, because they do not exist. This is the way the Catholic Church behaved.
How many homosexuals are there in the Catholic Church?
Nobody can tell you. There are no surveys. I can only g. Based guess. Based on my experience. I was in priestly seminaries, I taught. I have always lived among priests. I was not a monk who lived in a single monastery. I believe that, cautiously estimated, fifty percent of the Catholic clergy is homosexual.
The total population is assumed to be 10%.
The priesthood is a fantastic space to conceal homosexuality when it is not socially accepted. For this reason the priestly life attracts many homosexuals. It does not matter that you are not interested in women. One is always in male company.
A homophobic organization of homosexuals
This is the dilemma of the Church. Hence much of the suffering and despair of the priests. Homosexuals are persecuted and at the same time homosexuality is celebrated. Aesthetic. Pope Benedict XVI has greatly aggravated the hatred of homosexuals. At the same time, however, under his pontificate, it was as gay as never before in the modern age: the red shoes, the peaks, tassels, and fringes that were on display everywhere. “Soon we will all have to wear lace underwear,” one of the papal ceremonial masters complained. See for yourself on Youtube how Ratzinger and other dignitaries of the Vatican look at the naked torsos of the brother Pellegrini! That same Ratzinger writes that homosexuals can not love. They have, he says, only this morbid desire.
Perhaps the Ratzinger’s own – deep-rooted – life experience … He is doomed to non-love.
That I do not know. But I do know that is precisely the situation in which many thousands of priests find themselves. The situation I was in, it took very long before I realized: it is not homosexuality that is sinful, but the church. Many, many homosexual priests are very good priests.
You were a member of the Congregation for the Congregation for twelve years. You persecuted the devil on behalf of the church. Then, on October 3, 2015, you publicly declared to the world : I, Krzysztof Charamsa, Catholic priest and member of the Congregation of the Faith, am gay, and this is my partner, Eduard Planas, whom I love. You changed from Saul to Paul.
I inherited the place, which became free, when Georg Gänswein became Ratzinger’s private secretary. I inherited his computer, his office, his chair. Paul followed the truth. When he persecuted the Christians, he believed that he had to do so for the sake of the truth. Then he recognized his error and became a Christian. I thought God was against my homosexuality, so I fought it. Then I discovered that God had nothing against my homosexuality. He had given something against which my love was strugling. I was an official of a truth office, a Stasi. I was perfect in this office. I put together, for every question, the views that the Church had represented over the centuries. The new knowledge of science did not matter. The church was in possession of the truth. This treasure was to be lifted. I did not do that as a cynic. I did it because I believed in it.
This was the purpose from one minute to the next.
I had nothing but a suitcase and my husband. That was a liberation. And peace. The first time: peace. A new security. I am a believing man, so I know: That was a gift from God.
You always have to get everything from the top!
Yes, yes. Of course I also have to develop energy and strength. But they also come from God. Life needs a foundation. If you have that, you can let go. This was the experience of Paul. This was also my experience. But it took me a long time to realize that the ecclesiastical texts against homosexuality speak about me. In the Catechism, for example, it says of homosexual relations: “They violate the natural law, for the transmission of life is excluded in sexual act. They do not arise from a true affective and sexual supplementary need. They are in no way to be approved.” Today I know that the catechism preaches homophobia and not the love of God. That’s why I introduced my partner at my coming out. This was a theological statement. I wanted to make it clear: I’m not looking for sex. I’m looking for love. Sex I can have anywhere. For me, it’s about love. Homosexual love.
Is the doctrine that the Father has the Son nailed to the cross in order to save mankind, not unloving?
The suffering, the self-sacrificing God – that is the mystery of religion.
This God, who always kills whole tribes of nations, would not you weep for the dead of Sodom and Gomorrah?
It is impossible to understand how God can allow this. But I believe it is his respect for human freedom. His respect for our freedom. It is the limit of the action of God.
But the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah did not perish because they were fighting each other. God eradicated them.
In the Old Testament there is this image of God. Jesus corrects this. The relationship between God, suffering and freedom is the greatest question of religion. That is their secret. I took the liberty to first acknowledge my homosexuality before God. He accepted me. When I did it before the church, she rejected me.
Sodom and Gomorrah?
When you read the text in the Old Testament, it was not about homosexuality – the later tradition shifted the emphasis to the sexual – but about xenophobia and the refusal of hospitality. Lot receives the strangers, in truth God’s angels, with friendship and is attacked by his fellow citizens. It is – in this the story is quite topical – about the correct handling of refugees and migrants. The Sodom of today is my home country Poland. No one is willing to accept refugees. There is no place for a Syrian family in all Poland. Poland is Catholic, but no one opens strangers to his house. This is just one example of the terrible confusion in the Catholic Church.
Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa is not the first gay Christian to observe that coming out is a Christian process: Daniel Helminiak has written that it is an experience of both spiritual and psychological growth, Chris Glaser that it has so much spiritual significance, that it should be seen as a kind of sacrament. For lesbian and gay Catholics, however, Msgr Charamsa’s observation carries special weight. He is not simply a gay Catholic, a gay priest, or even “just” a gay theologian. He is (or was) one of the most influential of all theologians of the Catholic Church. As a senior theologian with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was his job to know more about approved Catholic theology, including the theology of sex, than just about anyone else.