Vatican ‘Panicked’ About LGBT Issues - LGBT Catholics Must Start “Stonewall” in Church
In a new interview, a former Vatican official has shed light on how church offices in Rome function and the alarmist posture which church officials have reportedly taken against gender and sexuality issues. Today and tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will highlight some key points from a much longer interview with the former official that you can read here.
For many years, Krzysztof Charamsa was a priest involved in the inner workings of the Vatican. He worked for both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as second secretary of the International Theological Commission, as well as teaching at Rome’s Gregorian University. But in 2015, he came out publicly as a partnered gay man in advance of the Synod on the Family. He was immediately removed from his Vatican posts and from the priesthood. To read more about his story, click here.
Charamsa shared information and insights about his time at the Vatican with the online journal Religion and Gender. He spoke about church officials’ ideas about “gender ideology,” their lack of contemporary knowledge, the role of Pope Francis, what he thinks LGBT Catholics should currently be doing, and more.
Panic Over ‘Gender Ideology’
After the United Nations conferences on gender in the 1990s, the Vatican responded to those meetings “with panic and disorder,” Charamsa said. Since panicking shuts down conversation, the Vatican’s posture became defensive, making the so-called “gender ideology” an enemy (which, Charamsa said, is the Church’s own constructed enemy because an enemy is needed when the Church is “unable to form its own identity”). He explained:
“Sexual minorities are reduced to the ‘other’, not ‘one of us’, and then to ‘something’. In this stereotypical vision, sexual minorities such as gays, lesbians, transgender people, intersex people are reduced to the masculine category of ‘gays’, only gays. The Church fails to see real people, communities or movements. It identifies something without real knowledge of it; without awareness of the human and sexual identity and life of these people, who must remain invisible. They are viewed as an object upon which hate and fear can be projected, and which can be destroyed.”
This “panic game” results in Vatican officials who are unclear of what to do, and so there are “attacks in every occasion” that use the same “propagandistic and apocalyptic slogans.” This panic comes out even in Pope Francis’ statements and writings, in which Vatican officials have a heavy hand preparing.
Twenty Years of Refusing Knowledge
The Vatican’s panic has led to more than two decades of church officials refusing to engage modern gender and sexuality studies. Charamsa described this situation of “irrational negation” on the part of Vatican officials in the following way:
“The level [of engagement] at the Vatican is poor, and closed, and fundamentalist. There is very little intellectual force to dialogue, to reflect. . .There is, I want to insist, no serious reflection about gender studies, feminism, or social movements of sexual minorities in the Vatican. There is no theological, philosophical or sociological reflection in the Church, and this is dramatic. . .
“The [CDF] consultors are theologians – and not the best theologians – who absolutely are not experts of gender studies. . .Much confusion and ignorance, a persistent usage of ‘they’: we don’t know who they are, but this is the concept of a ‘public enemy’, which must be instilled in the Catholic mentality.”
Studies of gender and sexuality topics elsewhere in the Church are suspicious in the CDF, and are “effectively forbidden” outside of officially sanctioned institutes that are “more propagandistic than serious disciplinary research.” What comes from these institutes and from Vatican theological work is a misguided approach to homosexuality used to prop up church teaching.
The Politics of Language about Homosexuality
Charamsa explained that the first tactic with homosexuality is simply silence because if it is not spoken about, it cannot exist, and even if it does exist, it is invisible.
But when homosexuality must be spoken about by church officials, the panic and lack of understanding in these two decades has transformed the concrete situations of real people into abstractions that are separated from realities. Charamsa described this dynamic as “the social sin of this time in my Church”:
“With false language and false pre-concepts we destroy reality; we hide it. . .Humanity now also knows that sexual orientation – or as the Church falsely puts it: ‘sexual tendency’ – is equally essential for understanding human nature. Facing this modern discovery, with our false ecclesial terminology we seek to hide this reality, to eliminate it, to dominate it.”
Church leaders use the language of “tendencies” and “attractions,” rather than the scientific language of sexual orientation agreed upon in contemporary discourse. They eliminate orientation without explaining why, according to Charamsa, who continued:
“TThe answer is: because it wants to maintain the false ancient vision of homosexuality, because only this erroneous vision can justify the actual doctrine of homosexuality. If homosexuality is a pathology, homosexual acts can be considered sins, yet if it is a healthy sexual orientation, the entire Catholic vision of homosexuality must change. . .We have all these problems in the Church, because the ecclesial authorities are not able to reflect on and to live our human sexual orientation at a personal and communitarian level.”
The way Vatican officials and even Popes John Paul II and Francis use this false language around homosexuality creates, Charamsa stated, “a prison, and a very hypocritical one” for not only LGBT people but the Church.
Attacking LGBT People to Preserve Power
The ultimate aim of the Vatican’s documents and silencing is what Charamsa terms the “psychological extermination” of lesbian and gay people from social spaces, including through criminalization laws. While defending Christians in parts of the world where they are genuinely threatened is important, the use of religious liberty in recent years has been to discriminate against LGBT people. Charamsa said:
“But my gay friends are martyrs too, in another way. And I’m not speaking about lesbians, about trans, who suffer much more. They are martyrs of Christian ideology defended by the Church. . .For me, all the propaganda and non-intellectual constructions, which support the heteronormativity of the Church, are an expression of hatred towards the persecuted object. . .
“The official ‘genius’ of woman and the official ‘respect’ for gays is in fact the biggest expression of disappointment, of inferiority, of hate. So you continuously hear: ‘Look. Gays are pathological people who cannot, are not able, to love another person. We are not against them. But they are naturally disordered and cannot have a sexual relation… And we are not against the marriage of gay men. They can get married. To women.’ The mentality of the Church does not have the consciousness that these sentences are inhuman: this is not respect; this is humiliation. These sentences do not only ignore reality, they are also against human dignity.”
Where does this desire to persecute come from? Charamsa answered that it is “not an intellectual problem, it’s a problem of government.” The preservation of “masculine, patriarchal power” that LGBT people and cisgender women represent is threatening.
Last month Charamsa was a keynote speaker at DignityUSA’s conference in Boston. Even though the picture he paints is bleak, Charamsa remains hopeful that LGBT Catholics can claim their dignity and even that some of the church’s theology today could be redeemed. Check back to Bondings 2.0 tomorrow for part two.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 20, 2017
Thoughts on Pope Francis
Charamsa said he is disappointed with Pope Francis who, in his first apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, expressed a desire to engage reality rather than abstractions but has done the opposite when it comes to gender and sexuality. Charamsa opined:
“Pope Francis is an old, homophobic man. Homophobic in a quotidian sense, as some- thing which, in Catholic or Christian families, is transmitted through the mother, the grandmother. He for sure has inherited this mentality, but my hope at the beginning of his pontificate was that he would be able, as a man of state, in a new position, to open his mind. He was a great fan of Cardinal Carlo M. Martini, the Archbishop of Milan, who has reflected on sexual minorities positively. But when you begin a new job, you must have collaborators. The pope cannot study gender studies, he cannot read much… he needs institutions who do that for him. So when collaborators come to this pope and say, ‘Gays are Nazis’, day after day, it is easy to think that perhaps it is true, just like his grandmother used to say bad things about these gays.”
Charamsa also described Francis as “a political man without collaborators” who may have simply admitted he can do nothing to move the church forward on homosexuality. This admission, Charamsa said, would be “the victory of the masculinist system of the Vatican” that separates out ideas from reality.
This calculation may also explain why Pope Francis did not condemn anti-LGBT criminalization laws while in Uganda, a failure to act that Charamsa called “horrible.” For Charamsa, the political calculations were the primary if not sole intention behind the Havana Declaration,signed by Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, that blasted marriage equality and other LGBT rights.
Redeeming a Theology of the Body?
Charamsa offered interesting thoughts about how theological currents on anthropology, sexuality, and gender could be redeemed by pro-equality advocates:
“I think it is possible to reconstruct a Catholic theology of body that takes the complexity of LGBTIQ issues into account. For theology this would be an enrichment that reforms our traditional, heteronormative, vision of marriage, which, in the light of Christian sources, must be open also for same sex couples. God has created us for love and this is an essential message for our faith, revealed in Genesis. In the confrontation with gender studies, we must correct many aspects of traditional doctrine about marriage.”
The problem today is not necessarily with a theology of the body, as a more embodied theology would be healthy, but the ways by which gender complementarity and arguments about bodies’ shapes and functions are taken to ideological extremes. Charamsa said this is “a very dangerous ideological intervention” that “does not permit reflection about modern advances in knowledge and human rights, sexual human rights”:
“We have closed our eyes for a very complex and mysterious identity, which is a human person, when we shield ecclesial reflection from the development of modern knowledge. This is a reduction of the human body to something immutable and prefixed. We have canceled the dynamic of knowledge and human reason and impose our partial historical visions as universal and eternal. This has been our error many times in the past, and we continue it today.”
But theology of the body could become beneficial if it were to positively engage contemporary knowledge and allow for a little more epistemological humility. Charamsa rejects outright, however, complementarity that is being used in the war against “gender ideology.”
Dangers of the Present Moment
The dangers with an ideological war against “gender ideology” is that the goal is to “ridiculize, present as inferior, and then destroy” people either psychologically or even physically. Charamsa expounded:
“So the Islamic State has its reasons to eliminate those persons who are dangerous to society, African states have their reasons to impose the death penalty for gay people. The Vatican agrees with this! For the Catholic Church, states and nations have the right to eliminate persons who are dangerous. Sexual minorities are seen as dangerous. One journalist in Amsterdam said to me: ‘Do you know that Cardinal Amato told me that two men who love each other are in society like two terrorists with a bomb?’ This cardinal was my boss in the Congregation. I don’t know his experience of homosexuality and I don’t want to know it. But this is the perception: when you design and create your enemy and stigmatize him as so dangerous, you have every right to eliminate him. And this is our homophobia. But homophobia is nothing when you think about lesbophobia or transphobia or intersexphobia.”
Hopes for the Future in Coming Out
There is hope, however, that LGBT Catholics can effectively challenge these horrific stances of some church officials. Charamsa said his decision to come out was to help move the church away from an emotional and reactive place, and he encouraged others to come out, too:
“We must compel the Church to begin dialogue and the first condition is to accept that gays exist not as object, but as subjects with dignity and without shame. In order to force the Church to consider us as human persons I think coming out is essential. It was my call and that of every gay priest. We are not criminals to exterminate. The criminal is the system that offends and eliminates us. . .The problem is that sexual minorities in the Church should begin a Stonewall Revolution, which will force the Church authorities to think and leave a paranoiac fear of LGBTIQ-persons behind.”
Charamsa also affirmed the work already underway in gender and sexuality studies as “a way of thinking that is connected to life, concrete life, to people who gain awareness of their own dignity and identity, and begin to see the possibility to be themselves.” He added:
“From a Christian point of view, one might say that this is a very Christian movement, a truly evangelical movement. This is the Gospel: ‘work in progress’ to understand our nature and our call to be and love! Because the understanding of the Gospel is made by people, concrete people who seek to understand themselves in the light of God’s revelation, but not without reason.”
Charamsa has a sense of urgency about these efforts. Unlike the Church’s later acceptance of scientific developments that it once rejected, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Church cannot fail for centuries before making a correction. Real lives are at stake, and people “can’t wait for three hundred years.”
What Charamsa’s interview revealed to me is that church officials lack any sort of foundation in sexuality and gender studies today, even while they write and pronounce on these issues. Rule by fear and panic can only lead to disaster. Even Pope Francis, it appears, is not immune from the Vatican’s machinations.
But there is also tremendous hope in Charamsa’s words. It is easier to help someone come to understand something about which they are ignorant or afraid than to heal malice in the heart. Charamsa’s courageous decision to come out and keep speaking out can be a model for gay priests and religious, and LGBT Catholics everywhere.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 21, 2017