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