Sunday, February 14, 2016

Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa to Magazine of ILGA-Europe: "The Catholic Church Needs Its Own Stonewall"

As a Valentine's day gift to you, here are some excerpts from an interview that Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa has just done with Juris Lavrikovs for the Magazine of ILGA-Europe (pdf file). As many of you will know, Krzysztof Charamsa is a Polish priest who formerly worked in the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and who came out publicly as gay right before the synod on the family opened last fall. He was then quickly defrocked by his bishop, and has given a number of previous interviews I've highlighted here — to Religión Digital (and here), The Guardian, and LGBT News Italia. He has also written an open letter to Pope Francis (and here) appealing to him to address the inhumane treatment of LGBT people by the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church.

In his ILGA-Europe interview, Krzysztof Charamsa continues to develop themes he has set forth in his previous interviews. He also notes that he has just completed a book, written in Italian and Polish, about his experience serving as a priest in a deeply homophobic religious institution. Here's what he means by that claim, he tells Juris Lavrikovs:

In the Catholic Church, you use every day nice words about love, about compassion, about respect, about tolerance, Gospel, heaven, better life, but in the middle of that there is a very clear homophobic position against sexual minorities. In the Catholic Church, perhaps you can say we have no physical violence, but we have clear physiological* violence against sexual minorities. Many call it a symbolic violence or soft violence, and this soft violence has the same destructive effect on sexual minorities as physical one. So don't kill them physically, but kill them psychologically.

Msgr. Charisma adds something here that I haven't heard him mention in previous interviews I've read: this is that he was still struggling to accept Catholic magisterial teaching about homosexuality — he was still believing in the church's position — when he began his CDF work. And this was the upshot of that struggle:

So the  first (and the biggest) part of the process was confronting myself. When I started accepting my sexuality, a new problem arose. In the Catholic Church, you must express your negative judgment about homosexuality, among the clergy, among your friends, with other priests. In my career, I was working in the most important ministry of the Church, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. In the beginning, I was fascinated. But then I discovered that it was a homophobic agency. I had the impression that in that offce people don’t think about God or Christ, but only about gays. Sexuality, particularly homosexuality, was the main topic. It was obsessive.

As he began to study and think about the church's position and the torture it creates for faithful LGBT Catholics like himself, he sought to reconcile Catholic teaching "with reality," with the reality of his own experience and conscience. He discovered the following in the process:

You must be cynical and false to preserve your position. Or you must lie in accordance to your conscience. In my office, it was like a wall. Every study about homosexuality was immediately labelled as a product of 'gay lobby'. According to them, the 'gay lobby' is  fighting against the church and want to impose their position on all people around the world and therefore destroy family, our society. 

As Msgr. Charamsa underscores, the basic "falsification" that the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church require of faithful Catholics who want to confront magisterial teaching about homosexuality with "reality" is this: "[W]hen you deny the the reality of homosexuality in an incorrect way, then consequently you also construct your position about it in an incorrect way." As you're forced to deny what your conscience tells you about the humanity of LGBT people, when you accede to magisterial teaching against the dictates of your conscience, you're also forced to swallow lies about why LGBT people are seeking to be treated as human beings deserving of human rights.

You're forced to reduce these fellow human beings to a "lobby," to "enemies" who are intent on destroying the church and the institution of the family. All this is inherent in the original lie, the lie that magisterial teaching about homosexuality is compelling when it flatly contradicts scientific findings that sexual orientation is not chosen or when it pretends to rest on biblical grounds that simply are not to be found in the scriptures.

Msgr. Charamsa's own personal struggle — one with which any number of LGBT Catholics will instinctively identify — has led him to conclude that the Catholic church desperately needs its own Stonewall moment, for this reason:

For me, it's clear that homosexual people in the Church have a moral (and also a human) obligation to refuse the church teaching about homosexuality. Because that position is irrational. It's against freedom and dignity of gay people. I've said many times that, in the light of modern knowledge, the position of the Catholic Church about homosexuality now is the same as a statement that the Earth is flat and it does not move.

Honesty and open discussion are imperative as the Catholic church confronts these questions, Msgr. Charamsa proposes, because they're intertwined with questions about clerical celibacy and the role of women in the church. As he states, 

You are right – all these problems are connected. And they are connected with a specific patriarchal and masculine vision of the church. All these issues are the result of heteronormativity of the church. And here, gender studies can help us very much. It's a great sin of the church that the church does not want to confront them with gender studies, with reflection about gender identity and sexual orientation. Of course when you are fighting against one form of discrimination, you take on board also other forms of discrimination. Many feminist theologians work for the rights of women, but at the same time they do lot of great work also for LGBTIQ people. 
Celibacy is a discipline of the church from 10th century which has nothing to do with God's Word in the Bible. Today we understand also that imposed celibacy is something which is not healthy and can present very negative consequences for priests. And love for God is in no contradiction with love for another human person: woman or man. Celibacy is yet another phase in that patriarchal and masculine government of the church. It is not essential for the priesthood, but it seems essential for the masculine way of maintaining the government in the church. 
I think what the church needs today is people who disagree in a strong and visible way, because they defend human dignity. Very often, big libraries, many books and rational arguments don't help as much as when you tell to others who you are and that you are not alone in LGBTIQ community. I think it was a great victory of the LGBTIQ movement; it was a victory of Stonewall. They were martyrs who had the courage to say we are not afraid, we say who we are, we have our dignity and we don't accept segregation! It was the same history of the black movement against segregation, as you think about Rosa Parks or Desmond Tutu. I think we need in the church something like courage of saying no against discrimination presented "in the name of God". My coming out was for me the result of the conviction that this is what I must do and what other brothers and sisters must do in the church to help it.

And, of course, to say all of this is only to underline yet again precisely why it's so very important, in the view of the men running the Catholic institution, that those pesky gays be defined as the demonic Other, the "enemy" constantly ginning up a "gay lobby" to attack "the" truth taught forever and ever by the Catholic church: give in to this enemy (even though it exists right in the heart of the Vatican, as the case of Msgr. Charamsa proves), and you'll find yourself next giving in to those pesky women. And to those who want priests to be allowed to marry . . . .

How on God's flat earth can any of that be permitted?!

*I think "psychological" is intended here.

(I'm very grateful to Bilgrimage reader Mark William for sending me this interview by email; I notice that Peter Montgomery also links to it this week in his end-of-week roundup of news about LGBT issues and religion in Religion Dispatches. I also want to acknowledge that Emma Cassidy edited the interview wiih Krzysztof Charamsa.)

The photo of the cover of this issue of the Magazine of ILGA-Europe is from Krzysztof Charamsa's Twitter feed.

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